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The wattled jacana, a long-toed bird in Shedd's Amazon Rising exhibit, flaps its large wings as visitors look on.

Wattled Jaçana

Long-legged wattled jaçanas are also called lily trotters because they can walk across lily pads and other floating vegetation, poking around for food, without getting their feet wet. They can even sprint across the surface of open water!

The secret's in their feet

Jaçanas are beautifully adapted to the Amazon's' seasonally flooded wetlands. Their splayed toes and long nails distribute their weight, like snowshoes for water, so that they don't sink as they nibble their way across floating meadows of aquatic vegetation. With little competition from less light-footed birds, they feast on insects, snails, small fishes and seeds. Jaçanas are also good swimmers and divers, although only so-so fliers. When predators threaten, they duck underwater, with just their nostrils, located midway on the bill, above the surface.

A brown and black bird sits crouched on some wood.

Dependent on a floating world

Jaçanas require floating vegetation, whether permanent tropical marshes or temporary floating meadows created during the Amazon's annual high-water season. In addition to providing these birds with an ample pantry, floating vegetation is a safe place to build a nest—out of aquatic plants. You won't find jaçanas in wetlands that don't feature a vast mat of aquatic plants at least part of the year. During low-water season in the Amazon, jaçanas wade along tributaries, oxbow lakes and irrigation ditches hunting food.

Other birds

Red-tailed hawk

Wood duck

Ruddy duck

Brazilian teal

Great horned owl