Archive for February, 2009

February News: “Extinct” buttonquail eaten, and more legal protection for wild Mexican parrots

February 27, 2009 1 comment

Here’s some bird-related news from February. The first one is a bit disheartening – a bird presumed extinct is photographed and then sold and eaten. It’s a species of buttonquail, and, confusingly, is not in the same family as the “Button Quail” that I have as pets. The buttonquails (one word) are in the genera Turnix or Ortyxelos which are in the family Turnicidae. They look like regular quail, but are unrelated. Button quail (Coturnix chinensis) are in the family Phasianidae and are related to pheasants.

The second story is good news for Mexican parrot species. A few people who’ve been to Mexico have told me that they’ve seen birds that look just like Ripley for sale in markets. There’s no way that the continued capture of large numbers of macaws and Amazons can be sustainable.

1) “Extinct” bird seen, Then eaten.*26974461

February 18, 2009— A rare quail from the Philippines was photographed for the first time before being sold as food at a poultry market, experts say.

Found only on the island of Luzon, Worcester’s buttonquail was known solely through drawings based on dated museum specimens collected several decades ago.

Scientists had suspected the species—listed as “data deficient” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s 2008 Red List—was extinct.

A TV crew documented the live bird in the market before it was sold in January, according to the Agence France-Press news agency.

Michael Lu, president of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines, told AFP the bird’s demise should inspire a “local consciousness” about the region’s threatened wildlife.

“What if this was the last of its species?” Lu said.

However, the buttonquail is from a “notoriously cryptic and unobtrusive family of birds,” according to the nonprofit Birdlife International, so the species may survive undetected in other regions.

—Christine Dell’Amore

2) Ban of Capturing And Exporting Of Mexican Wild Parrots Passed As Law

New bill aimed to help repopulate Mexico’s native wild parrot species

By Angela Pham

Posted: October 31, 2008, 3:00 a.m. EDT

Introduced a year ago to the Mexican Senate, a bill that bans the capture and export of Mexican wild parrots was signed into law Oct. 14, 2008, giving environmentalists hope that endangered Mexican parrot species populations will recover from years of illegal trade.

After the Defenders of Wildlife and Teyeliz, A.C., presented a report in 2007 that discussed the damaging extent of the illegal parrot trade in Mexico, Congress took note.

Titled “The Illegal Parrot Trade in Mexico: A Comprehensive Assessment,” the report shared statistics that startled the Mexican government and inspired the Senate to pass the new bill unanimously. It declared that an estimated 65,000 to 78,500 wild parrots and macaws are captured illegally each year, with more than 75 percent of the birds dying before reaching a purchaser.

Juan Carlos Cantu Guzman, director of Mexican programs for Defenders of Wildlife, said he estimates that at least 50 to 60 percent of all illegal parrot trading will stop immediately once the bill takes effect. Over time, he expects the illegal activity to decline even further.

Those who continue dealing with the illegal bird trade and are caught with birds that inhabit natural protected areas of Mexico will face a jail sentence of up to 12 years. Already, the threat of government intervention has stopped some illegal. After word of the bill was first distributed to the Mexican public in newspapers, television and radio, Guzman noted a visible decline in wild parrots sold on the streets. Now that the bill is officially published, he hopes the effect will become even greater.

But while deterring the practice of illegal parrot trade is the primary goal of the bill, educating the public on the significance of the ban is also essential.

Parrots have been part of Mexican culture as far back as the Aztecs and Mayans; initially as a food source to use of parrot feathers in art. Keeping an exotic, wild parrot as a pet in the household is not uncommon among Mexican families, and trying to turn this culture around will be no simple task.

Guzman said that although keeping captive-bred and legally imported parrot species will remain legal for Mexican citizens, owning a wild native parrot will no longer be an option.

“It’s something that is going to take a long time for people to realize,” he said. “Most of the species are threatened with extinction. If they keep demanding more Mexican parrots, illegal trade is going to continue, and most of the species will no longer be in the wild.”

Such species include orange-fronted parakeets, white-fronted parrots, yellow-cheeked parrots and the military macaw, which are the most often trapped species.

To keep citizens informed and persuaded of the new ban, a bi-national public education campaign is set to begin soon to coincide with the passing of the new law and to help discourage the purchasing of illegal parrots on the streets.

The campaign will be vast, said Peter Jenkins, director of international programs for Defenders of Wildlife. Hundreds of bus shelter ads will be placed at bus stops in major Mexican cities, and thousands of posters will also be distributed, along with comic books designed to educate children and resource guides for teachers. Videos will also be prepared for bus companies and taxis, and Guzman will also speak on the topic on his radio show.

Based on a past outreach project led by Guzman that dealt with educating the public about sea turtles, the campaign has a good model to build on, Jenkins said.

“We think that the law in combination with our major outreach in public education campaign will have a good effect,” he said.


Parrot Podcasts

February 15, 2009 3 comments

This weekend’s topic: parrot-related podcasts. I’ve found that there are quite a few and some are very informative.  I like listening to them while I have some sort of tedious task to do, like entering data into a spreadsheet.

1) Wings N’ Things

As of this writing, there are 41 episodes of this podcast. It’s now hosted by Barbara Heidenreich and Robin Shewokis.

The main site, Pet Life Radio, has podcasts about all sorts of pets.  The same ads and jokes played again and again get a bit irritating, but generally, the podcasts are pretty good.

2) Ask the Bird Experts

For this one, you enter your E-mail address, name and a phone number and you can listen to a parrot podcast Sunday night. The podcasts are usually available for download for a few days after they are played. A different guest speaker is interviewed each week, and then he or she will answer some questions from the listeners.  The questions can be typed in on the website.

If you enter your E-mail, you will get a weekly E-mail reminding you of each Sunday’s call and who the guest speaker is.

3) Parrot Science

This site has parrot news updates and some podcasts in the middle column.

If you know of any I missed, please let me know in the comments section below!

Categories: Pet Parrots Tags: ,

Button Quail!

February 13, 2009 18 comments

Button Quail!


I have a total of ten birds, but two of them are not parrots and are not related to parrots.  They’re button quail.  I have two of them, a male and a female.  They’re quiet, small (four inches long) and gentle, so they can be kept in aviaries with other gentle birds.  Mine live with my two Lineolated Parakeets.  The Linnies don’t go on the ground much, and quail are ground birds, so they don’t really bother each other.


Mr. Quail (with the white and black “bib”), and Mrs. Quail.


Not a lot of people know that there is a small variety of quail that can be kept as a pet, so I wrote a bit more on them in an “FAQ” format.


Q. Where are they from originally?


Button quail (also called Chinese Painted Quail, Asian Blue Quail, or King Quail, Coturnix chinensis) have a huge natural range and are found in southeast China, Taiwan, Southeast Asia, the Philippines, much of Indonesia, New Guinea, a large part of Australia, and Madagascar. They have been introduced to Guam, Mauritius, and Reunion. There are also African Blue Quail, which are very similar to the Asian/Pacific Button Quail. These African quail are not available in North America.

Button Quail are not endangered in the wild (although they are scarce in Victoria, Australia), and captive birds are generally the descendants of other captive birds.  They have been kept as ornamental birds for thousands of years in China.  They started to become kept and bred as cage birds in the West during the late 1800s and early 1900s. They aren’t terribly common as pets today, but many finch keepers like to keep them on the bottom of aviaries and a few people like to keep just the quail.  I think they are interesting to watch and listen to.


Q: Why do you have Button Quail?

People look at me strange when I mention I have pet quail. Honestly, I got them because I think they’re cute and I got my Lineolated Parakeets a new cage and they don’t really use the bottom half much. There aren’t many parrot species I would house with button quail, but linnies are easy-going and gentle.  Button Quail are often housed in aviaries with peaceful finches (such as Society Finches, Zebra Finches or Gouldian Finches) and they’re okay to keep with calm, gentle species of parakeet, like linnies, or Bourke’s Parakeets.  They aren’t terribly difficult to care for, so can make an interesting and different addition to an aviary.

Q: What do people  do with Button Quail?

This is one of the search questions that directed people to this blog.  Button quails are ornamental birds more than anything. Larger varieties of quail are bred for their eggs, meat or to be released into hunting reserves. Button quail are not useful for any of these purposes, as there’s really not enough meat on a button quail for a McNugget, and their eggs are tiny as well.  So, these guys are primarily pet birds.

Q. What do they eat?

Many will eat anything small enough to fit in their beaks, because they are omnivores.  Naturally, they would eat small seeds, insects and bits of vegetation. “Game bird” food is the best base diet for them, and should be available at most feed stores.  It may need to be ground up into smaller bits suitable for button quail.  Most game bird feed is probably intended for bigger pheasants. Turkey starter is okay if game bird food is not available.

Finding small bags of game bird feed might be difficult in some areas. Where I live, I could find it in big 50 pound bags, which is more than a quail would need in its whole life.  I found a place (Pisces Pets in Calgary) where I could buy it in smaller quantities.  I have to head through Calgary a lot, so I just pick up a bag while I’m there. However, small quantities of quail food can also be bought online. Try E-bay – I’ve actually found quail food on there.

My two quail also eat a bit of seed (they really go for millet) and they get a few meal worms each evening. They really seem to enjoy the meal worms and actually change their vocalizations upon finding them. They start chirping a lot faster, and I think they do this to let each other know that there are worms available (a high-protein food source).  Some males will give worms they find to females, because females often need the extra nutrition to produce eggs. I also give my quail bits of broccoli on occasion, which is very nutritious for them.  They get a small pinch of fine grit daily, since they do not chew their food, like parrots do. The grit helps them digest the seeds. Female quail that lay a lot of eggs should get a bit of crushed oyster shell as well.


Q. Do they need showers or anything, like parrots?

Not water showers, but like chinchillas or chickens, they do take dust baths. A bowl of chinchilla dust (available at pet stores), potting soil (without perlite), or sand can be offered and the quail will likely go in it, crouch and spread their wings and kick the dirt on themselves. It’s cute.

Mr. Quail just after a dirt bath

Mr. Quail just after a dirt bath


Q. Do they make noise?

Yes, but they are not loud.  They make a constant quiet peeping noise while they are active and will call to each other by making a crowing, “Ouw Ouw Ouw” sound when they have lost sight of each other.  Mine also make a noise that sounds a bit like a wind tunnel.  The video below shows what this sounds like:

Q. Why do some have feathers missing on the head?


My female quail has a bald patch on her head and has had it since I got her. When startled, quail will jump straight upwards, and can hit their heads on the roof of their enclosure. Enclosures either need to be tall, or they need to have a soft roof to prevent “boinking” injuries.  I suspect my female quail (Mrs. Quail) has a bald patch due to a boinking injury.

Quails with patches of feathers missing around the eyes or on the back have likely been picked at by other quail.  This can happen if the quail are overcrowded or there are too many males in an enclosure. Also, the male does pull a bit on the female’s feathers when he mates with her.

Q. What kind of caging do they need?

Mine live in a cage about three feet high with two Lineolated Parakeets.  They live on the ground of the cage. Button Quail are not perching birds and are ground birds, like chickens. So, having sufficient floor space is important to them.

Most bird keepers keep them in aviaries with other birds (like I do), but button quail can also be kept only with other quail. Large (55 gallon) aquariums can work fine as housing, as long as the roof is soft enough to prevent “boinking” injuries. Screen secured over the cage works fine as a roof.  I also kept my quail temporarily at work (in a classroom, for animal behaviour students to see) in a big Rubbermaid container. I added some aspen shavings, a couple hides, and their food and water. I used some plastic screen as a roof and put a lamp nearby so they could see.  This cage gave the quail lots of room, and big Rubbermaid containers are cheap. The downside is that the quail are not visible through the sides of the cage.

“Boinking” injuries can also be prevented by trimming some of the flight feathers on the quails’ wings. That way, they cannot jump as high.

Q. Are they social?


Yes, with other quail. For the most part, they are birds for watching, not holding. Most are too jumpy to hold. A button quail should have another quail as company, as they occur in pairs in the wild. An opposite sex pair is best, and two or more males may fight with each other.  However, multiple pairs can be kept in very large enclosures if there are lots of nesting spots and hides for the quail. In small commercial bird cages, it’s best to keep just male and one female.

Some button quail accept human handling and may even become friendly. However, it takes a lot of patience to tame an adult button quail that has never been handled.


Q. Are they hard to breed?


Compared to most parrot species, Button Quail would be easy to breed, although I have not tried it. My female hasn’t laid any eggs, which I have figured out is due to the lighting cycle. They get about 12 hours of day and 12 of night in a cycle. Female quail will lay eggs if they get more than 14 hours of light in a cycle.

Few female Button Quail will incubate their eggs naturally, but some will if given enough privacy and nesting material. If a female won’t sit on the eggs, they will need to be artificially incubated if they are to hatch.  Like I’ve said, I’ve never bred them, but heading to some of the links at the end of this will get you to more information on breeding quail.

Males and females are (mostly) easy to tell apart. The male has a black and white “bib” on his neck and the female doesn’t. However, there are different colours of button quail and there’s a white variety where the males and females look the same.  Females will have wider “hip” bones and bigger vents (for laying eggs) than males.

Q. Where can I find more information?

There’s a book out there just on Button Quail, and it can be ordered from Avian Publications. I’ve ordered quite a few books on there and they have all arrived promptly.


There’s also another great book available (pictured above) available at the Bracken Ridge Ranch website. This is definitely the most detailed book about button quail I’ve seen and when I ordered it, it was shipped out very quickly.

And, here are some links to more information:


Button Quail Home Page

Chinese Painted Quail

Bracken Ridge Ranch

Acadiana Aviaries

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