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The African Quail Finch – Combing the Qualities of Two Distinct Bird Families

African QuailfinchFinches and quails, both popular with bird fanciers, differ greatly in appearance and habits.  Except, that is, for an unusual bird known as the African Quail Finch, Ortigospiza atricollis (a/k/a Partridge Finch, Black-Chinned Quail Finch).  It is a true finch, classified with other waxbills in the family Estrildidae, but one could not be blamed for thinking otherwise…in appearance and behavior, it very much resembles a minute quail.  If you’ve always wanted to keep quail but lack the space, or just wish to work with a very unique finch, you may want to consider these charming little birds.


Quail Finches amuse me so because their small size – a mere 4 inches in length – is combined with a very stocky, “quail-like” shape; very unusual indeed.

They also possess other qualities typical of quails – muted yet attractive colors, a short tail, strong legs and powerful, “whirling” flight style.  In contrast to all other waxbills, they walk rather than hop.  When frightened, they freeze in position as do quails, exploding into the air only when nearly trod upon.

Range and Habitat

Quail Finches are found throughout much of Africa south of the Sahara.  At least 10 subspecies have been identified.

Although typically associated with swamps, marshes and wooded scrub near water (please see photo), several populations occur in dry savannahs and desert fringes; farms and pastures may be colonized as well.

Captive Care

Perhaps due to their lack of bright colors, Quail Finches have never been popular among aviculturists, and are not commonly found in zoo collections.  However, their plumage – a mix of mottled shades of brown, black and white – has a subtle beauty all its own, and their behavior is most interesting.

Initially shy, they adjust well to captivity and may feed from the hand in time.  In many ways, their care follows that of the Painted or Button Quail – please see the article below for detailed information.


Quail Finches forage almost entirely on the ground, scratching and peering about in the manner of sawed-off little Button Quails.  Cage length is, therefore, more important than height.  Aviary-style indoor cages and outdoor aviaries are good options, as are homemade cages that allow for ample floor space.

Some folks modify small animal cages for use with Quail Finches – please write in for further information on this topic.  Glass aquariums are not recommended due to the limited air exchange provided.

African Quailfinch habitatSmall stumps, rocks and platforms provide ideal perching sites.  Being tiny and ground-dwelling in Africa puts one on the menu of myriad predators, and Quail Finches are consequently very ill-at-ease in open situations… dried or live grass clumps should be always be positioned about the cage floor to prevent their becoming stressed.

Sand serves well as a substrate, and likely promotes foot health.  However, be sure that damp sand and droppings do not become impacted between their toes.  Much like true quails, they will develop serious health problems if this occurs.  Be sure to keep their sand floors clean and dry.

It is important to avoid startling Quail Finches (i.e. by turning a light on in a dark room).  When frightened, they explode upward in true quail fashion and can easily injure their heads upon the cage top.


Grass seed and insects form the bulk of their diet in the wild.  Pet Quail Finches do well on a high quality finch seed mix, extra canary grass seed, and small daily feedings of egg food, sprouts, mealworms, crickets, waxworms and other insects.  All protein-based foods should be offered in much larger quantities to breeding pairs.

Quail Finches should be fed on the ground; allowing mealworms to burrow into the sand substrate will keep them busy for hours.


Quail Finches form strong pair bonds and make good parents if undisturbed.  Their grass nest is constructed on the ground, and 4-6 eggs are typically produced.  The young hatch within 12 days and fledge when 2 weeks of age, but are fed by the parents for at least 30 days thereafter.

Further Reading

Painted/Button Quail Care

Video: Wild Quail Finch

Keeping and Breeding Quail Finches: one aviculturist’s experience



African Quailfinch image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Steve Garvie


  1. avatar

    I have been looking for a pair of African Quail finches with no luck. Can anyone recommend a source?

    Thank you

  2. avatar

    Hello Rick , Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog. Birds Express (CA, USA) carries them from time to time; private breeders that advertise in the WatchBird and similar magazines might be source as well.

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

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    Please I am an african a Nigerian to be precise I need to know wat African quails are like the images I’ve seen so far are none like the ones I know

  4. avatar


    Thanks for your interest. This site provides a list of all birds native to Nigeria; you can search other African countries there as well. As you’ll see, there are 3 species of quail…searching under the common or Latin name should turn up photos. The Stone Partridge and the 3 Guinea Fowl species are also quail-like in appearance, so you may wish to check them as well.

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

    Best regards, 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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