Fairies of Pond- Pheasant Tailed Jacana

It was summers. The heat and dust were being accompanied by wandering teenager clouds, who just roam around aimlessly, all puffed up and in spotless white cloths. But all they could do was to pull their act together from late morning till late noon. Humidity had not yet arrived. Thus early mornings and evenings were still cool, breezy and pleasant.

One such cool morning, we decided to go again to Okhla Bird Park in Delhi-NCR. Although summer is usually a lean period for birding but what to do with our desire to be outdoors ‘on the road’.

We were walking on the mud track in the park. My younger one was kicking his feet, flying dust around us, and it was causing a distraction. We were scratching our heads to find a way to keep him interested and going. My patience was withering away. Manish was all quiet and looking for birds. He stopped suddenly and pointed to a patch of grass in water. A big group of birds was sitting in the wet-greens. We could see their white necks and golden nape only and were a bit confused whether we had seen them before or not.

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We were still trying to identify when suddenly they flew and settled again.Their coffee brown body was adorned with golden nape and a long tail further accentuated their elegance. Their wings and underparts were all dazzling white and in flight they looked like fins of fairies. We were at a distance and these ornately beautiful birds were far for a good shot.

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Their distinctive huge feet and claws and the long tail led us to a quick identification in the field guide. It was a group of Pheasant Tailed Jacanas in breeding plumage.

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Jacanas are the wading birds which are very well adapted to walk on the vegetation in water. Their unusually long toes spread their weight over a large area, enabling them to walk on floating vegetation on water. Thus shallow water is their preferred habitat.

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Pheasant tailed Jacana is the only Jacana to have different plumage for breeding and nonbreeding season. When you see it in non- breeding season, it may amuse you that what does Pheasant has to do in this bird’s name. In breeding plumage, their central tail feathers grow very long and curve like a pheasant’s tail. This is how it got its name. Another striking feature in the breeding season is the golden iridescent color of nape which otherwise is pale yellow.

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While we are talking about the breeding season, let me tell you another interesting fact about its mating behaviour. Birds have different mating behaviour. While some pair for life like Ruddy Shellduck or Sarus Crane, some though not pair for life but pair with only one in a season. many birds are polygamous in their mating behaviour. But this family of birds (and some others like painted Snipes) are polyandrous. Polygamy is much more common than polyandry in birds. It is the female who holds the territorial rights and keeps many males with whom it has exclusive mating rights. It will deposit a clutch of eggs in a nest built by each of its male and its job is done. Rest of all the rearing from incubation to raise and feed the chicks is done by male. Nature never fails to surprise us!

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In Thailand, these birds are aptly called as Fairies of Pond. When we came to know this fact, there was a big grin on Manish’s face. When these birds were settling down after flight, he described that these were looking like fairies. After all, names are given by us humans based on our observation. Nationality, religion and culture can never color our observation. They only give us a moor of words to tie the boat of our observation and feelings. So somewhere else they are called as Jesus Birds, because when on water, they look as if walking on water.

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