Whilst leading a birding tour to Sri Lanka, I spotted a flash of bright white in a lily-choked wetland near Ambalantota in the south-east of this verdant island.

A bright flash of white caught my attention in this lilly-choked wetland

Closer investigation revealed a stunning male Pheasant-tailed Jacana perched atop a female. Our excitement at finding these avian gems soon turned to amazement as the entire tour group became enraptured by the fascinating behavior that we were fortunate enough to observe.

The male Pheasant-tailed Jacana stood atop a female

The female bird was rhythmically moving her body from left to right, while at the same time the male on her back tracked her movements.

The female rhythmically moved her body left and right and the male tried his best to keep his balance as he followed her movements

The occasional flashes of white, which first caught our attention, were the male’s underwings, displayed as he raised his wings to regain balance when he lost synchrony with the female’s movement.

The male jacana flashes his white wings in an attempt to regain his balance

After several minutes, the female finally capitulated, arched her body as the male reached his forwards for the brief “cloacal kiss”, the method most birds use to mate.

The final conclusion, a cloacal-kiss!

Whilst we are on the subject of jacanas and their mating behavior, it is worth noting that this family of birds (as well as phalaropes and painted-snipes) is polyandrous. This is the opposite of polygamous; the females hold and actively defend territories containing several males with whom they have mating rights. When the female is ready to lay eggs, she will deposit a clutch of eggs in a nest built by each of her males and that is the end of her role in reproduction. The males will incubate the eggs and raise the chicks to fledgling status. However unlike phalaropes and painted-snipes, female jacanas are not more boldly-marked and colorful than the males.

A fish may love a bird, but where would they live?

-Drew Barrymore

Bird Love Week is seven days of exploration of avian amore here on 10,000 Birds from April 22-28. We love birds, and the topic of birds loving other birds and in the process making more birds is a fascinating one we know you will enjoy. Mike, Corey, and a bevy of Beat Writers have been working on this one for awhile as the perfect expression of our love of all things avian. To see all of our Bird Love Week posts, just click here. But be warned – Bird Love Week is neither for the faint of heart nor for the permanently prudish – you may end up with images that you never imagined seared onto your brain.


Written by Adam Riley
Adam Riley has grown up with a lifelong interest in wildlife, which evolved into a particular fascination with birds. Raised in a rural region of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, Adam qualified as a Chartered Accountant but in 1998 his career path took an alternative route when he founded Rockjumper Birding Tours with his friend Jonathan Rossouw. Since 2000 Adam has been the sole owner and managing director of Rockjumper and has also founded ORYX - Wildlife Safaris and ORYX – Worldwide Photographic Safaris. Adam has traveled extensively to all 7 continents, leading tours to numerous countries ranging from Colombia to Egypt, Angola to Papua New Guinea and Antarctica to Alaska. Adam is one of Africa’s most experienced birders, having seen over 2,000 species on the continent as well as 7,000 species worldwide.