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

Click The Chinese Painted Quail (Button Quail, Blue-breasted Quail), Conturnix chinensis, and the Japanese Quail, C. japonica, Part 1, to read the first part of this article.

Although ideally suited to a grass-bottomed outdoor aviary, button quail also do quite well in large bird or small animal cages, such as the Pets International Premium Hutch or My First Home. Button quail are ground dwelling birds, so floor space is the most important consideration in cage selection.

Button Quail

When startled, these tiny birds explode straight up with great force, and can injure themselves in low-roofed cages. You may wish to trim their flight feathers if injuries are a possibility in the cage you provide. Despite their friendly demeanor, button quail are easily frightened by unexpected noises, and so should be housed in calm surroundings.

Newly hatched button quail are, quite literally, the size of bumblebees – check that they cannot squeeze through the cage’s mesh.

Button quail should be given as much room as possible – they are always in motion and youngsters in particular seem to explore endlessly. A raised, flat shelf in the cage will be used by the birds as an observation point – you may be surprised at how interested they seem to be in what goes on about them.

Like other quail and pheasants, button quail relish dust baths and do not bathe in water. A sand-filled bowl should be provided for this purpose.

Drinking bowls must be shallow and, for the tiny chicks, should be filled with pebbles or marbles to prevent drowning.

Light and Heat
Button quail do well at normal room temperatures. Their cage should be lit by a full spectrum bulb designed for use with birds.

A high quality finch seed mix, such as Vitabird Finch Seed, should form the basis of the diet. Button quail also relish greens, and should be given small amounts of kale, romaine and similar foods, as well as sprouting grass like the Vitakraft Sprout Pot. Tiny mealworms, crickets, waxworms and other insects are a valuable addition to the diet, especially when they are breeding. Button quail do not open the seeds upon which they feed, and so a constant supply of suitably-small grit is essential. Millet sprays  hung at head level will keep the birds busy and all who watch them amused.

Social Groups and Compatible Species
Button quail should be kept in pairs or small groups (“coveys”) of 1 cock and several hens. Males have the endearing habit of offering small insects to females, who are alerted to the treat by his high-pitched “peeps”. Males usually fight with each other and should not be housed together (this includes chicks of over 2 months in age).

They also get along admirably with nearly all finches, canaries and other softbills, and with those parrots that will not harass them. A pair will add greatly to your enjoyment of a well-planted aviary stocked with finches and similar birds.

Button quails breed well in captivity – year round if in good condition and provided with a daylight period of 10 hours or so. Females are, however, quick to abandon their eggs (the eggs can be easily hatched in a commercial incubator). Cocks often harass sitting hens – those that do not will settle near the nest, apparently to assist in detecting threats.

The simple nest is constructed on the ground, often in the lee of a grass clump or log if such is available. Females lay 6-10 eggs, which they incubate for 16 days without help from the male. The young can follow their mother shortly after hatching, and are sexually mature within 2 months. The sight of a hen leading her thimble-sized brood about really must be seen to be fully appreciated. The chicks are very curious and tend to get into all sorts of trouble by wedging themselves into tight places, so be sure to check their cage carefully.

Chicks hatched in an incubator can fend for themselves right away, and make delightful pets. They will likely imprint upon you (see you as their “mother”) and will follow you about incessantly. Such birds sometimes fail to breed as they mature, but more than compensate for this by the close bonds that they form with people.

I hope that you will give these entertaining fellows a try – although a bit of a change from what most bird fanciers are accustomed to, button quail are well worth considering.

Information about button quail in the wild can be found at:

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.

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