Home | Bird Species Profiles | The Chinese Painted Quail (Button Quail, Blue-breasted Quail), Conturnix chinensis, and the Japanese Quail, C. japonica, Part 1

The Chinese Painted Quail (Button Quail, Blue-breasted Quail), Conturnix chinensis, and the Japanese Quail, C. japonica, Part 1

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.  Button Quail



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.


  1. avatar

    i have come acrossed a pair of button quail one is silver the other black i am a bird lover and have them in my collection dont know if they are male or femail would love to learn more about them and would like to aquire more are there any good sites to got to to learn such things will wait for your response thank you Robin

  2. avatar

    Hello Robin, Frank Indiviglio here. Thanks for your interest in our blog.

    It’s easy to distinguish the sexes of normally-colored individuals, as mentioned in this article, but sexing silver, black and other mutations is very difficult. The best way is to watch their behavior…they breed readily, and males will actively chase hens and offer them insects such as mealworms. If you have 2 males, and they are sexually mature, they would likely be fighting – but not always, as sometimes 2 males will get along fine until a female is introduced. Females usually get along but establish a dominance hierarchy, with or without a male.

    Best to be sure of the sexes before getting new birds, and please remember that despite their small size they need plenty of room. There are labs that do “feather sexing” (you mail them a feather) – I can’t think of names off-hand but can find one if you would like to look into that for you. You can keep 1 male with 3-4 hens.

    Please check Part II of this article for more details on captive care; detailed natural history info is available at the website of the University of Michigan Natural History Museum. Please let me know what other information you are interested in and I’ll forward you to a source.

    Happy New Year, Frank Indiviglio

  3. avatar

    thank you so much for your response frank,can you help me in aquireing more I live in michigan and came acrossed this pair by accident they are so cute can they be tamed like some of our other birds ,thank you Frank hope Your New Year is Grand 😉 robin

  4. avatar

    Hello Robin, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for the kind words…looks like you’re hooked. They are hard to resist – the chicks are the size of bumblebees when they hatch!

    I don’t personally know of breeders near you, but someone at the Michigan Bird and Game Breeders Association should be able to help. When searching for breeders, you’ll more often find them under “game birds” as opposed to pets. Folks that breed other pheasants and quails tend to keep a few pairs. Also try “ornamental pheasant breeders” and “quail eggs” – there’s a market for the tiny eggs, used in many SE/E Asian dishes, suppliers sometimes sell birds into the pet trade as well.

    Please remember to figure out sexes, as males will fight.

    Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Happy new year, Frank Indiviglio.

  5. avatar

    Hello Frank, i have been to other web sites and can’t find the answers to my questions, my birds have lost feathers on their head and their back it seems to bleed and heal and they are left bald, i can’t find what to use for them to build a nest,could you please help me find the answers i would be grateful thank you for all your help thus far Robin

  6. avatar

    Hello Robin, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your note. It’s very common for painted quails to explode straight upward when startled…they often damage their heads on the top of their cage and lose feathers in the process. It can happen at night, due to a noise, so owners often do not see the actual behavior.

    However, if the bald area extends far down the back, a skin ailment (fungi, bacteria), mites or a nutritional deficiency may be involved. A vet visit is the only sure way to determine the cause …please let me know if yo need help in finding an experienced avian vet.

    Fighting is another possibility, but this usually involves injury to 1 bird and is obvious.

    Their nest is usually just a small scrape/depression in the ground. You can provide dry grass or hay (as is sold for rabbits) when they show signs of courting. However, a breeding pair needs lots of room, and they will not likely mate until they are in good health. You may need to remove the male if they nest, as males often continue to court sitting females and may cause them to abandon the eggs.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  7. avatar
    Deborah Konack

    the easy way to see if a button is male or female is put a mirror out side the cage where they can walk past & see their reflection. the male will think it is a female he will stand very tall , drop one wing and strut. the female will not.
    very cute to watch also

  8. avatar

    Hello Deborah, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog. Very useful tidbit, thanks very much. Interesting that the male seems to display as if to a hen – generally males (other species) attack the image or try to bluff the other into a retreat.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  9. avatar

    Hi Frank. The information that you and others have posted here has been very helpful. I currently have a pair of buttons that decided to nest. I want prepared when the hen went broody but when I saw her during in one spot and refusing to move I knew what was happening. Out of curiosity I added eggs that my other hens had laid the same day and she didn’t mind at all. I added some hay to their cage and they have done the rest. Today is day 15 on her nest and the male is still with her. He is being so protective of her and I had read that sometimes the male will help so I guess I will just keep a close eye on them. My brooder and incubator are ready and standing by just in case. i will let you know how it goes.

  10. avatar

    Hi Peggy,

    Nice to hear from you; thanks for the kind words and update.

    Wise to add eggs that were deposited on same day. She’ll have no problem rearing extra chicks, as they simply follow her around, picking at food. Chicks hatched in incubators do fine on their own (assuming they stay out of water bowls, do not slip through wires, etc….re that, be sure to see cautions regarding drowning).

    Enjoy and please keep me posted, frank

  11. avatar

    Hi Frank just wanted to give you an update on my broody button pair. I am delighted to announce the arrival of two bouncy baby buttons. I checked on the pair this afternoon and discovered two healthy chicks with mom and papa button. Mom continued to sit on the unhatched eggs for a couple hours while papa watched after the little ones but she did leave the other after a while. I gathered them up and put them in my incubator but one egg cracked along the way. I opened it up to see if it was viable and it was but it didn’t survive but now I know that maybe one or two of the remaining eggs may still hatch out. I Ann so excited for the little family. It’s so cute to watch the chicks huddle with momma and papa button. The adults drink out of a rabbit bottle waterer so the chicks have a quail water base filled with pea gravel to drink out of and some finely ground chick feed to eat. Mom and papa are teaching them how to find it. I will keep you updated. Thanks for all the helpful information.

  12. avatar

    Hi Peggy,

    Thanks very much…always nice to hear good news. You’ll enjoy, I’m sure..please keep me posted, have fun, Frank

  13. avatar

    Thank you for the advise to put the abandoned eggs in an incubator right away. I did have two more chicks hatch out in the incubator. About twelve hours later I put them in with mama and papa button and they are doing well. At first I thought of keeping them seperately in a brooder but my goal was to see if the pair would raise their chicks naturally and its so cute to see the family together. I did add the extra light as a heart source and hung towels over the cage to hold some heat in, reduce drafts and provide some privacy. I am happy that it has been successful so far. Thank you for the great suggestions.

  14. avatar

    Hi Peggy,

    So nice to hear…thanks for taking the time to write in. Please keep me posted, Enjoy, Frank

About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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