Creeping with “Christ” bird

on 2nd July 2008

“The religious text – Bible, mentions a Messiah or Christ that ‘walked on water.’ But that was more than two thousand years ago if one chooses the religious faith of Christianity to believe.

“Delving into the avian world, I discovered that a family of birds- Jacanas Jacanidae or lotus birds/lily-trotters commonly known by Australians, are also called Christ birds – for they seemingly seen to be walking on water from afar.

“With a worldwide total of only 8 species of Jacanas, Malaysia boasts of two in the Malaysian checklist of birds. Both the Bronze-winged (Metopidius indicus) and Pheasant-tailed Jacanas (Hydrophasianus chirurgus) remain elusive and not ready to reveal themselves to me as yet. (Vagrant former, migratory latter)

“Perhaps, I was not desperate enough nor seek hard enough just to chalk up my checklist. Nor too the vegetative local scene in my backyard provides enough inspiration, what I could say… to do so would be, just a trivial pursuit that did not match up in comparison to the feeling of completeness and aesthetical perfection of seeing a Jacana in Monet’s Waterlilies.

“When I had old migratory friends from Australia visited as in-house guests last year, I was shown a digital camera image of a Jacana which looked interesting enough to catch a non-birder’s eye. I identified it to be the Comb-crested Jacana (Metopidius [rediparra] gallinacea).

“This is the only one and resident species to be found in Australia and I decided under the spell of my ‘Feet-itchy Syndrome’, I would take on the Comb-crested Jacana as one of my ‘wish list’ to see birds, even if it means scouring over seven and half million sq km of endearing land of so many diversities – just to get a better glimpse of it; perhaps challenge my birding luck to hold good if not, better in the land of Oz.


“Perhaps too, be rewarded with a picture or two and to show why this species is so famous for their feet; inoculating, emulating and reminding ourselves the values of appreciating and making a point of conserving bird habitats proactively, especially of quality birds before they become fallen and categorised into Red data listings, as endangered species or become extinct like Dodo birds (above left).


“Jacanas are known to have the longest feet-to-body ratio of any bird known. Their toes are spread out to balance their body weight as well as to enable the bird to hop-scotch over to the next lily pad, some of which grow to a metre in diameter. Thus, this would give the apparent appearance of a bird walking on water. Hence the name- Christ Bird is derived (above right; left).

“With the help of three Australian birding pals and a walk all round the lotus ponds with DGScope in tow, it did not matter that the sky had a hole in it that late morning. I had my SP45 on. We finally spotted one, creeping along rich aquatic vegetation of Blue lilies (Nymphae violacea) and on large, dotted- green, lotus pads in the lake (below left).

“Following the walking tall bird with my x50 magnification scope and at least 100 feet distance away, the 23cm bird was observed creeping in and out of those gorgeous blue water lilies, reeds and probing into water and vegetation in search of aquatic invertebrates, seeds and roots (below right).


“The vegetation was all so healthy. It was classical habitat at best for these polyandrous birds as described in field guide books that provided me the inspiration to write, showcasing the signature identity of the Comb-crested Jacana to readers at its dramatic best in perfect habitat situations (below).


“These birds are amazing. Although they do take short flights across lakes, ponds and lagoons, they are highly adapted to aquatic life, building their nests and raising their young on those floating vegetation. The chicks are also submersibles in times of predatory threats.

“Being polyandrous – females often mate with other males, these female birds would leave the housekeeping – egg incubation and the business of rearing the hatchings in the care of their faithful males.

“Mmm…that’s a change. Wonder how our social human MALE society especially in Middle Eastern countries would turn out to react if women emulate the lifestyles of female Jacanas. Weeeee!

“By the way, isn’t’ it uncanny that those opened, leather slippers with big toe straps worn by ancient Romans and Middle Eastern men of today are called, Jesus’s Creepers by working expatriates living in their host countries?

“It has also been described that whenever a predatory threat looms, the Jacana male would swiftly pick up and carry off his hatchings under his wing to safety, leaving their hatchings’ long trailing feet hanging out.

“One day perhaps, Inshah Allah (God willing), should I chance another sighting of a Jacana in any part of the world, I hope to have this opportunity to witness such a caring behaviour of the fine, home keeping male to your armchair to share with you. Perhaps …go seven steps further to see them all?


“Through the good office of our BESG member Bruce Ramsay, this front view image of the Comb-crested Jacana is made possible by courtesy of Ian Fraser, showing the red comb of this fascinating, walking Christ bird” (above).


If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

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