Male and female are similar in colouring; females are up to half as big again as males.
Immature Jacanas have a rufous head and nape, breast white without black breast band with a barely formed comb. More developed immature birds have black and rufous breast band, head and nape.
Eats mainly aquatic plants, seeds and insects. Mostly feeding by day.
Breeding takes place from September to May with local variation. In eastern Australia between September and January and later, from January to May, in northern Australia, probably because of monsoonal rain. A mated pair vigorously defends their territory against other Jacanas. The nest is made of fine green water-plant stems laid mainly on lily leaves, usually in water more than a metre deep. Three or four eggs are laid, glossy bright tan, thickly covered with black marks and fine wavy brown lines; about 30 by 23 millimetres. Both parents incubate the eggs. Nests are easily damaged and Jacanas may move their eggs to another nest, carrying them under the chin.
Both parents look after the chicks; adults become wary when nesting and may perform a distraction display, floundering as if they have a broken wing. Jacana chicks hatch with long toes and are mobile enough to avoid predators or can tumble into the water and hide beneath floating leaves with only the tip of the bill above the surface for up to half an hour. Small chicks can be carried tucked under the parent's wings.
Lives on deeper, permanent, still, freshwater swamps, ponds and billabongs. Range extends along coastal north and eastern Australia from the Kimberley (about Broome) east and south to the Hawkesbury River. Locally abundant on rich, undamaged wetlands in remote or protected north coastal Australia but increasingly uncommon to scarce towards the southern extremity of the range where lagoons have been damaged by stock or other activity.
This species is also known as Metapidius (Irediparra) gallinacea.
The Pheasant-tailed Jacana (Hydrophasianua chirurgus) is a similar bird with a long, dark tail; non-breeding birds do not have a comb. Found mainly in Java and Timor with occasional visitors to the Kimberley and Pilbara regions of Western Australia.