Black-breasted buttonquail (Turnix melanogaster)

Black-breasted buttonquail female
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Black-breasted buttonquail fact file

Black-breasted buttonquail description

GenusTurnix (1)

The black-breasted buttonquail (Turnix melanogaster) is a large, robust bird which is unusual in that incubation and chick care is carried out solely by the male. It has a distinctive brown, black, grey and white patterned plumage, with a little brick-red colouring on the upperwing and back. The underwing and lower belly are grey to dark grey. The female is the larger sex, and can also be distinguished by the black throat, face and head (2), whereas the male has a predominantly white face and throat (4). The bill is grey and the less are pale yellow (5). Immature birds are similar to the adult male, just a little less boldly patterned (4). This bird also has distinctive white eyes (6). The female has a very characteristic call; a deep, low, resonant drumming, which is repeated rapidly (2). The male makes soft clucking sounds (2).

Male length: 18 cm (2)
Female length: 19 cm (2)
Male weight: 50 – 87 g (3)
Female weight: 80 – 119 g (3)

Black-breasted buttonquail biology

An unusual feature of the black-breasted buttonquail’s biology is that incubation and chick care is carried out solely by the male. Breeding generally occurs from October to February (3), however, the timing of breeding can be affected by temperatures and local rainfall, and it is thought that nesting activity may be associated with wet periods (7). During the breeding season, the female becomes territorial, and advertises her territory with a distinctive low, drumming call. Males defend temporary territories within the female’s territory, for the period of courtship and nesting (7). The nest is a scrape in the ground, lined with grass and leaves, situated under a low bush or tussock grass, often with grass stems forming a hood, or dome over the nest. Usually three to four eggs are laid, and incubated by the male for 15-16 days. After hatching, the male continues to feed the chick for two weeks (3). It is thought that the black-breasted buttonquail has a polyandrous mating system, whereby a female mates with several males in succession (7).

These omnivorous birds feed on invertebrates, such as beetles, ants, spiders, and also seeds and grains. It searches for food by scratching and pecking at the leaf litter, and also feeds by a much more unusual method; it stands on one foot and pivots, whilst raking the leaf litter with the other. This creates characteristic feeding scrapes, which advertise the presence of this shy species (3).


Black-breasted buttonquail range

The black-breasted buttonquail occurs on the east coast of Australia, from Rockhampton in Queensland, south to the Walcha-Yarrowitch area in north east New South Wales. It also occurs on Fraser Island off the coast of Queensland (2) (5). It has been recorded at only 50 sites over this range (2).


Black-breasted buttonquail habitat

The black-breasted buttonquail inhabits rainforests and forests. They prefer forest with an annual rainfall of 770 – 1,200 mm, a largely closed canopy and a deep layer of leaf litter (5). However, they can also be found in low, dense thickets, of the flowering plant Lantana, and in vegetation behind sand dunes (3) (5).


Black-breasted buttonquail status

The black-breasted buttonquail is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Near Threatened


Black-breasted buttonquail threats

The range and numbers of the black-breasted buttonquail have been significantly reduced by habitat clearance for agriculture and for plantations of hoop pine, a tree species used for its timber. The remaining populations continue to be threatened by introduced predators, such as feral cats; the trampling and grazing of habitat by cattle; and fire, particularly in the drier habitats (2) (4).


Black-breasted buttonquail conservation

The black-breasted button quail is listed in Australia as Vulnerable under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, in New South Wales as Endangered under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995, and in Queensland as Vulnerable under the Nature Conservation Act 1992 (5). Surveys and research into this species are underway in Queensland, but it is proposed that further research is required to determine its ecological requirements, as well as conservation and protection of rainforest habitat, and control of introduced animals (2) (4).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

For further information on the black-breasted button quail see:

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Animals with no backbone.
Feeds on both plants and animals.
A mating system in which a female mates with several males during one breeding system.


  1. IUCN Red List (August, 2012)
  2. NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (June, 2007)
  3. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1996) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol. 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  4. Birdlife International (June, 2007)
  5. Australian Government Department of the Environment and Water Resources (June, 2007)
  6. NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change (June, 2007)
  7. Smyth, A.K. and Young, J. (1996) Observations on the endangered black-breasted buttonquail Turnix melanogaster breeding in the wild. Emu, 96: 2002 - 207.

Image credit

Black-breasted buttonquail female  
Black-breasted buttonquail female

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