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.
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:
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