Parental and Social Behaviour of the Bronze-winged Jacana (Metopidius indicus)

on 5th October 2022

The Bronze-winged Jacana (Metopidius indicus) is considered an uncommon resident (very localised) in the Thai-Malay Peninsula (Wells 1999); more often seen on the Thai side of the peninsula. Birds of the World (Jenni and Kirwan 2020) does not mention it for Malaysia but does suggest local seasonal movements in response to the weather. The recent ‘Birds of Malaysia’ (Chong et al 2020) suggest that it is a very local winter visitor to Peninsular Malaysia. The MNS Bird Conservation Council (2021) documents it as a resident for Peninsular Malaysia.

Reports in the eBird dataset show an increased number of sightings especially in Perlis and the Penang state mainland. Some of these reports are accompanied with images of juveniles.

Some of us were fortunate to see a breeding pair in a wetlands site in mainland Penang in the past few weeks. Observation on 23rd August and 22nd September 2022. Early observations suggest that there were 4 chicks but currently only 2 are left (see Plate 1); the others are assumed to have been lost due to predation.

Plate 1.

It is well known that sex roles are reversed for incubation and brood rearing (Wells 1999). During our observations, we are able to differentiate the adult male from the adult female by size; females are reported to be up to 60% larger (Jenni and Kirwan 2020).

Observations show that only the male cares for and ‘shepherds’ the chicks (see Plate 2). The male is very protective of the young and at times will shield them in dense vegetation or keep them under its wings. The male is also constantly on the lookout for threats and will address these aggressively by flying out to meet the perceived threat.

Plate 2.

The adult female Bronze-winged Jacana is usually found some distance away (10-20 meters), feeding and preening; only occasionally involved in parenting activities. Once, when a group of juvenile and adult Indochinese (Purple) Swamphen (Porphyrio poliocephalus) came too close, the adult male Bronze-winged Jacana flew out to defend his brood; at this time we also observed the adult female joining him to defend the chicks.

At times we observed the chicks completely unattended while the adult male was off defending them or was some distance away feeding. All observations showed the 2 juveniles were self-feeding. No observations of the chicks being fed by either parent was observed at earlier or later visit to the site (four weeks apart). The juveniles tend to wander off in all directions and are often about 1 to 2 meters away from the adult male. It was observed that occasionally the adult male would go into ‘panic mode’ when he could not locate all the chicks.

Towards dawn and dusk all the chicks would huddle under the wings of the adult male, probably to keep warm, with only the legs visible (see Plates 3 and 4).

Plate 3.
Plate 4.

For roosting, the adult male prefers wet, open spaces surrounded by grass vegetation; likely for visibility of predators, such as monitor lizards (a few were seen stalking the birds). Swamp hens could also be a threat.

These and earlier observations by colleagues confirm that the Bronze-winged Jacana is a resident for Peninsular Malaysia and breeds locally. Protection of wetlands sites is critical for the survival of this species. The Batu Kawan wetlands site on the Penang mainland, where these birds were seen, is an excellent location but is sadly scheduled for extensive development.


  1. Chong Leong Puan, Geoffrey Davison, Kim Chye Lim (2020). Birds of Malaysia: Covering Peninsular Malaysia, Malaysian Borneo and Singapore. Lynx and BirdLife International Field Guides Collection.
  2. Jenni, D. A. and G. M. Kirwan (2020). Bronze-winged Jacana (Metopidius indicus), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (J. del Hoyo, A. Elliott, J. Sargatal, D. A. Christie, and E. de Juana, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.
  3. MNS Bird Conservation Council. 2021. A Checklist of the Bird of Malaysia 2020 Edition. Kuala Lumpur: Malaysian Nature Society. (MNS Conservation Publication No. 22)
  4. Wells, D.R. (1999) The birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula: Vol. 1 (Passerines). Christopher Helm, London.


Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS, Robin Cheng and Cecilia Lim

Penang, Malaysia

22 September 2022.

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