Parrots, finches and canaries can certainly provide a lifetime’s worth of enjoyment to the bird fancier, but sometimes we feel the urge for something “different”. Other types of pet trade and domestic birds – peafowl and other pheasants, ducks, geese and such – are often large, expensive and difficult to provide for in most home situations.
The diminutive Chinese Painted, or Button Quail, however, is none of these, and is an excellent choice for those seeking a ground-dwelling bird. These beautiful miniature quail are a pure delight to keep, and are quite hardy to boot. I first became acquainted with them quite accidentally – while working at the Bronx Zoo, I had often used their eggs as food for African egg-eating snakes. Curious to see the egg-producers in person, I visited the breeder and became enamored of the tiny birds.
Although not as readily available as more typical pet birds, button quail are bred commercially.
Note: The following notes pertain to the button quail. The Japanese quail is larger (to 8 inches) but can be maintained in similar fashion.
Button quail are found from India to southern China and south through Indonesia to New Guinea and northeastern Australia, and have been introduced to Mauritius and Reunion. At least 10 subspecies have been described over this huge range. They favor moist grasslands and overgrown fields, marshy areas and rice paddies.
At a mere 4-5 inches in length, button quail are the smallest members of the family Phasianidae, which contains nearly 200 species of quails, pheasants and partridges.
Males are brownish-blue with white and black-marked throats and faces. The breast is blue-gray and the belly is chestnut-red. Hens are mottled brown and have unmarked throats. A number of interesting color mutations, including silver, white and blue-faced, have been developed.