A small, plump bird (3) (4) (5), the brown quail (Coturnix ypsilophora) is a nomadic species (5) that varies significantly in colour, size and location within its wide geographic range (2) (5). Its plumage colour varies from a buffy reddish-brown to dark greyish-black, depending on the subspecies. Some scientists believe that the nominate subspecies of the brown quail, Coturnix ypsilophora ypsilophora, should be elevated to species status. If this were to happen, the entire taxonomy of this species would need to be revised (2).
The adult male brown quail is reddish-brown and dappled with black on the top of its head and the back of its neck, with a cream stripe that runs along the middle of its head from front to back. The rest of its head is pale reddish-brown to brown or grey, whereas its chin and throat are pale yellowish-brown. Its underparts vary from pale yellowish- or reddish-brown to brown, with strong, blackish, ‘V’ shaped bars. The upperparts and wings of the brown quail are much the same as its underparts, with the exception of the flight feathers which are greyish-brown with reddish or pale brown patterning. The dark brown tail is barely noticeable and has asymmetrical pale yellowish-brown barring (2).
Adult female brown quails resemble the males, but are smaller and less variable in colour. More commonly having pale yellowish-brown to brown plumage, females of this species also have small black spots on the shoulder feathers, back and rump. In addition, the female’s upperparts and underparts both have bold, ‘V’shaped, almost black markings (2).
The juvenile brown quail is similar in appearance to the adult female, apart from its ‘V’ shaped markings which are brown and broken up into blotches on all but the flanks, where they are less distinct (2).
Brown quail eye colour ranges between dark or reddish-brown, deep red, orange-yellow (2) and yellow (5). Its bill is generally grey (2) or black (5), and its legs are orange to greenish-yellow (2).
The brown quail calls most often at dawn or dusk, giving a loud, two-note whistle that rises in pitch. The call is described as a ‘f-weep’, ‘tu-eeeee’ or ‘be-quick’, the first note of which is often shorter and feebler. Upon being disturbed, this species gives a short chatter or several sharp chirps (2).
- Also known as
- silver quail, swamp quail, Tasmanian quail.
- Length: 17 - 22 cm (2)
- Male weight: 75 - 123 g (2)
- Female weight: 85 - 140 g (2)
Brown quail biology
Generally occurring in groups of three to five, the brown quail may also occasionally be found in groups of up to ten (8). This species feeds on seeds, grass shoots, small herbs and invertebrates (8), and very occasionally on small reptiles (2). It stealthily forages on the ground in a stooped posture (2), generally feeding in the early morning or evening (5).
The brown quail is a monogamous species (2) and generally breeds between August and May, although this can vary with location (5). In New Zealand, eggs have been recorded from December to June, and in Tasmania from November to February. Egg laying in Western Australia and New South Wales is generally from August until February. In north Queensland the brown quail breeds from October until July. However, in south Queensland this species is reported to breed throughout the year (2).
Up to 3 clutches may be laid within the breeding season, rarely 4, and clutch size is 7 to 12 eggs in Australia and 4 to 6 in New Guinea. Eggs are laid within a shallow, slightly domed nest lined with grass, which is built on the ground and often sheltered by a low shrub or grass tussock. For 21 to 22 days, the female alone incubates the sometimes speckled, pale bluish, yellowish or greenish-yellow eggs. The male brown quail helps look after the newly hatched chicks, taking over their care completely when they are two weeks old so that the female can incubate the next clutch (2).
When disturbed, the brown quail is often averse to take flight (9), instead preferring to either stay still and hide, or run from the danger. If this species is suddenly surprised, it may fly vertically upwards, then rapidly forwards, finally dropping to the ground and continuing its retreat on foot. When a group of brown quails are disturbed, they first dash in different directions before calling and running back towards each other (2).
Brown quail range
The brown quail occurs in mainland northern, eastern and south-western Australia (5), in Tasmania (2), and on Barrow Island off the west coast of Australia (6). This species is also native to Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, and has been introduced to New Zealand (5) and Fiji (7).
The subspecies Coturnix ypsilophora ypsilophora occurs only in Tasmania (2).
Brown quail habitat
Present in swampy heath and grassland, pasture (7), wetlands and riverine flood plains, the brown quail occurs mainly in lowland habitats, although it is found in New Zealand at around 1,000 metres and 3,700 metres in New Guinea. This species may also be found in Spinifex savannah habitats, forest clearings, salt marshes and roadside verges (2).
Brown quail status
The brown quail is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).
Brown quail threats
Although the brown quail is reported to be common throughout most of its range, its population is in decline due to habitat loss and degradation caused by draining of its wetland habitats, burning, and increased salinity in some of the areas it inhabits (10). Agriculture is also a major cause of habitat degradation, and harvesting of crops can directly cause death of this ground-dwelling species. Farm machinery often destroys brown quail nests as they are constructed on the ground (11).
Brown quail conservation
Proposed conservation measures for the brown quail include actively maintaining patches of suitable grassland and pasture, and a reassessment of harvesting methods and timing (11).
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- Flight feathers
- The feathers at the end of the wing, involved in flight.
- A small, non-woody, seed bearing plant in which all the aerial parts die back at the end of each growing season.
- To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
- Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones) and echinoderms.
- Having only one mate during a breeding season, or throughout the breeding life of a pair.
- A species which roams irregularly from place to place in search of food and water, without returning to a fixed location.
- Nominate subspecies
- When a species is divided into subspecies, the originally described population is classified as the nominate subspecies. Indicated by the repetition of the species name; for example, Cyclura nubila nubila is the nominate subspecies of the Cayman Islands ground iguana, Cyclura nubila.
- A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
- The science of classifying organisms, grouping together animals which share common features and are thought to have a common ancestor.
IUCN Red List (April, 2013)
Madge, S., McGowan, P. and Kirwan, G. (2002) Pheasants, Partridges and Grouse: A Guide to the Pheasants, Partridges, Quails, Grouse, Guineafowl, Buttonquails, and Sandgrouse of the World. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.
MobileReference (2008) The Illustrated Encyclopedia Of North American Birds: An Essential Guide to Common Birds of North America. MobileReference, Boston.
James Cook University - Coturnix ypsilophora (April, 2013)
Department for Environment and Heritage, Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges South Australia: Threatened species profile - Coturnix ypsilophora (April, 2013)
Moro, D. and MacAulay, I. (2010) A Guide to the Birds of Barrow Island. Chevron Australia, Perth. Available at:
Lever, C. (2010) Naturalised Birds of the World. A&C Black Publishers, London.
Sibley, C. and Monroe, B. (1990) Distribution and Taxonomy of Birds of the World. Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut.
Tzaros, C., Shimba, T. and Robertson, P. (2005) Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Country. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
BirdLife International - Brown quail (April, 2013)
Attwood, S., Park, S., Maron, M., Collard, S., Robinson, D., Reardon-Smith, K. and Cockfield, G. (2009) Declining birds in Australian agricultural landscapes may benefit from aspects of the European agri-environment model. Biological Conservation, 142: 1981-1991.