Button Quail: Adorable By Any Name
An Introduction To The Extraordinary And Worldly Button Quail Breed
Button quail, which are also known as Chinese painted quail, Chung-Chi, Asian blue quail or blue- breasted quail, are well, cute as a button! The smallest of the true quail, this species is endemic to Southeast Asia and Australia.
This species of quail is raised primarily for enjoyment as an aviary or pet bird. Due to its very small size, this species of quail would not be a suitable choice for the production of eggs or meat. There are other larger types of quail that are more popular as culinary birds, although their eggs are healthy and edible. Due to its size and care requirements button quail have been an endearing species to aviculturist and poultry keepers for countless generations.
Garrie Landry, from Franklin, Louisiana, has been raising poultry and cage birds since 1966. At the age of 15, he began keeping and breeding birds and today he is the owner of Acadiana Aviaries, author of Varieties and Genetics of the Zebra finch, and The Care, Breeding and Genetics of the Button quail.
And yes, all types of quail are considered poultry. Even the smallest and most exotic species fall under the category of poultry.
Landry raises, on average, about 300 Button quail per year.
“It might sound like a lot of birds but it’s not,” he explains. “Button quail are very productive birds and it would be very easy to raise many more than that.”
He hatches a small number of birds throughout the year to maintain a group of young birds that lay very well. He only hatches enough birds to keep his egg production at a good level, since his primary market is selling hatching eggs. In addition to Button quail, he currently cares for African harlequin quail and various rare color varieties of the domestic Coturnix or Pharaoh quail.
Landry says the scientific name of the Button quail has seen many changes through his life time. It has been Coturnix chinensis, while other sources refer to it as Excalfactoria chinensis. “More recently it has been moved to the genus Synoicus,” he notes. “So today some authorities are using the name Synoicus chinensis.” One thing that has not changed is the species name, chinensis. So while the genus name seems unresolved, at least we have one correct name.
Button quail have long been regarded as suitable scavenger birds in larger avi-aries. Landry says that they are often kept to forage the ground for bird scraps left by other aviary occupants. He has seen many conservatories and botanical greenhouses keep Button quail for the express purpose of insect control on the floor.
“Butterfly conservatories frequently use Button quail for this same purpose,” he adds. “The quail never harm the butterflies but control the spread of ground insects.”
If you do not have a butterfly con-servatory or aviary, you can still care for Button quail. “Button quail will thrive in small spaces,” Landry says. “A single pair is quite at home in a cage or terrarium with 20 square inches of floor space.”
Many people choose to keep them indoors in large aquaria, where they pro-vide an attractive natural setting to the aquarium for the quail to explore. If kept in a meshed or screened enclosure, a solid floor is required as they have delicate feet.
Jodi McDonald, owner of Bracken Ridge Ranch and author of A Closer Look at Button Quail, has been raising poultry since she was a young child. “I developed a love for birds when I spent summers working on my aunt’s poultry farm in Oregon and they have been a part of my life ever since.”
McDonald says that since Button quail are native to the tropical forests of S.E. China, they do not do well in all outdoor U.S. environments. “Their ideal comfort level is in a temperature is between 50 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.”
“Button quail are unique in that they do not live in family coveys like other types of quail,” McDonald says. “Instead they pair bond and live one male to one female per territory in the wild. When housed in groups they become aggressive toward each other, especially during mating season.”
Being so small I wondered if quail could ever be as tame as a chicken, and Landry believes so. “Yes,” he confirmed. “The Button quail and many other species of quail can become very sociable toward people. I have met individuals who had very tame and affectionate Button quail as pets.”
“Button quail make good pets and generally become tame enough to ac-cept meal worms and other treats from their owner’s fingertips,” McDonald says. “However,” she warns, “they do not like to be handled.” As a defense mechanism, when handled, their heart rate goes up by about 30 percent and their body temperature raises by a degree or two. This combination causes a drop in the hormone prolactin and some of their soft feathers fall out. “This is nature’s way of helping them to escape predators,” McDonald explains. “When a predator realizes it has a mouth full of feathers, its instinct is to expel them and if all goes well, the quail is released along with the loose feathers.”
Button quail can be successfully kept with a variety of other cage birds, as in doves and finches. The larger the aviary, the more birds you can keep together. Planted aviaries afford the best places to keep a wide variety of birds together and look spectacular. Smaller cages are not a suitable place to try and keep Button quail with other birds, as both sexes can be territorial. The size of the enclosure ultimately determines if Button quail can safely be kept with other species. Button quail can be very aggressive toward other small birds, and some individuals may be too aggressive and will never be compatible with other types of birds.
“People often buy eggs for hatching, and some keepers offer birds for sale on a regular basis,” Landry says in regards to the market on Button quail. “It’s not uncommon to find a vendor or two at a local bird mart offering Button quail for sale.”
“They always pique the curiosity of anyone who sees them,” McDonald adds. “The main reason for raising them should be to establish a responsible breeding program to preserve the species.” She says that they have not been spotted in their native habitat in many years, and no new breeding stock has been imported in more than 20 years. “They are a unique little bird and they should be raised and treated like the amazing birds they are. Eventually, without caring breeders, they will become lost to future generations.”
BUTTON QUAIL VARIETIES
Button quail come in many color varieties today. These basic colors can be combined to produce quail with extraordinary colors and patterns. The ever-increasing variety of Button quail color mutations has certainly found a following of enthusiasts who keep this species for their interesting colors.
• Red Breasted
Kenny Coogan, CPBT-KA, holds a bachelor’s degree in animal behavior and is a certified professional bird trainer through the International Avian Trainers Certification Board. He is a weekly pet columnist, magazine contributor and has authored a children’s book titled, “A Tenrec Named Trey (And other odd-lettered animals that like to play).” Please search “Critter Companions by Kenny Coogan” on Facebook to learn more.