The Charm of Button Quail
by Ginger Wolnik

First published in the Pet Companion, April 1997.

Imagine an Easter chick that never grows up, but remains small, roundand fuzzy all its life. That's the best way I can describe the ButtonQuail, also known as the Chinese Painted Quail (Coturnixchinensis). They are the smallest members of the bird familythat include chickens, turkeys, peacocks and pheasants. Button Quailare similar in shape and color to our state bird, the CaliforniaQuail, but about half the size and without the head plume. There area variety of color mutations available, including white, silver,reddish-brown and speckled.

These adorable little ground birds can be mixed with almost any othercage birds. They won't bother other species, but can be aggressivetoward their own kind. If you choose to house more than two quailtogether, avoid having more than one male if there is a female withthem. Unless you have a lot of room, it is best to keep just a pair,which can be mixed or the same sex. They are mostly quiet birds, butmales will occasionally "crow" like a little rooster, especially atdawn. If you keep them in your house, the crowing noise might startleyou the first couple of mornings, but like having a grandfather clock,you will get used to it and not notice after that. Both sexes alsomake a variety of soft clucks and clicking sounds that are part oftheir charm.

Quail need their own food and fresh water on the floor where they canreach the dishes. They will also eat spilled seed or pellets fromother birds kept with them. Most people feed them game bird crumbles,available from feed supply stores. Mine eat canary and finch pelletssupplemented with meal worms and their own cuttlebone attached low inthe cage for them. They also enjoy sand for grit and will take dustbaths in the sand bowl.

Button Quail may be kept in almost any tall aviary or flight cage. Ofcourse, the more room for them to scurry around pecking and exploring,the better. When startled, they fly straight up but run out of steamquickly and flutter back down. I recommend at least 3' of heightclearance in their cage to prevent head injuries from these"helicopter flights". They do not use perches, but appreciate acovered hiding place on the floor.

If you get a female, she will soon start laying eggs whether or not amale is with her. It is normal for her to lay an egg each day forseveral days, then rest a few days. This cycle can continue all yearround and will not hurt the bird as long as she has adequatenutrition. Most domesticated Button Quail hens have lost theirnesting instincts so breeders use artificial incubators for raisingthe eggs. Since these birds are overabundant in captivity, I do notrecommend allowing the eggs to develop unless you have a home for thechicks.

Warning to vegans: you might want to skip this next paragraph!

If you hate waste, consider eating the eggs. They taste like chickeneggs although they have a higher percentage of yolk. Collect each eggwithin a day of laying. Rinse in cool water, pat dry, then store inthe refrigerator for up to three weeks. Ten Button Quail eggs equalone large chicken egg in volume. They can be scrambled or used forbaking. You can also hard-boil them and serve as hors d'oeuvres atparties. The shells are tedious to remove, so boil for just 5 minutesin salted water. You can present the white, peeled eggs on a plattermixed with black olives for contrast. Expect half your guests torefuse to eat them after meeting the mother, even though they will eatchicken eggs. The rest will rave about how tasty they are!

Hayes, Leland B., Ph.D. The Chinese Painted Quail "The Button Quail"
Copyright by Leland B. Hayes, Ph.D., 1992.

See color photos of Button Quail on the internet at:

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