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, round and fuzzy all its life. That's the best way I can describe the Button Quail, also known as the Chinese Painted Quail (Coturnix chinensis). They are the smallest members of the bird family that include chickens, turkeys, peacocks and pheasants. Button Quail are similar in shape and color to our state bird, the California Quail, but about half the size and without the head plume. There are a variety of color mutations available, including white, silver, reddish-brown and speckled.

These adorable little ground birds can be mixed with almost any other cage birds. They won't bother other species, but can be aggressive toward their own kind. If you choose to house more than two quail together, avoid having more than one male if there is a female with them. 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, but males will occasionally "crow" like a little rooster, especially at dawn. If you keep them in your house, the crowing noise might startle you the first couple of mornings, but like having a grandfather clock, you will get used to it and not notice after that. Both sexes also make a variety of soft clucks and clicking sounds that are part of their charm.

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

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

If you get a female, she will soon start laying eggs whether or not a male is with her. It is normal for her to lay an egg each day for several days, then rest a few days. This cycle can continue all year round and will not hurt the bird as long as she has adequate nutrition. Most domesticated Button Quail hens have lost their nesting instincts so breeders use artificial incubators for raising the eggs. Since these birds are overabundant in captivity, I do not recommend allowing the eggs to develop unless you have a home for the chicks.

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

If you hate waste, consider eating the eggs. They taste like chicken eggs although they have a higher percentage of yolk. Collect each egg within a day of laying. Rinse in cool water, pat dry, then store in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. Ten Button Quail eggs equal one large chicken egg in volume. They can be scrambled or used for baking. You can also hard-boil them and serve as hors d'oeuvres at parties. The shells are tedious to remove, so boil for just 5 minutes in salted water. You can present the white, peeled eggs on a platter mixed with black olives for contrast. Expect half your guests to refuse to eat them after meeting the mother, even though they will eat chicken 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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