Foster Rearing Button Quail Chicks An attempt at a return to natural breeding


Why another article about the Button Quail, or Blue-breasted Quail Coturnix (Excalfactona) chinensis as it is more accurately known (Clements 1991)? Certainly there has been a lot written about this tiny game bird over the years, so why did I feel the need to add my two cents worth? This paper will describe my efforts to facilitate the natural breeding of Button Quail, and offer some ideas for teaching naive birds to raise their own chicks.

I have kept and bred Button Quail on a small scale for about 10 years now. I purchased my first pair from a local pet store and set them up for breeding in a thirty gallon "long" fish tank. Having been a bird keeper at the Brookfield Zoo for a number of years, I was convinced of the desirability of a naturalistic habitat to get the birds to feel comfortable enough to breed. This fact was also noted by Hayes 0992) and Parrot-Holden 0988). Johnsgard 0988) states that these birds are found in the wild in open grassland habitats, and Ali and Ripley 0969) describe the

nest as a "scrape lined sparsely with

leaves and grass placed in a clump

of short grass." I therefore set up the tank with a substrate of corn cob bedding, a tangled clump of artificial plants in the corner as a nest site, and plastic leaves wired to the cage top to prevent injuries should the birds spook and try to fly straight up.

I just naively assumed that the birds would then nest and raise their own young. I was totally unaware of the problems often encountered with this species, that they are often "too nervous to care for their own eggs and young unless conditions are absolutely ideal" (Radford 1987). Either I was blessed with a female who had not read any of the dire predictions about her species, or the pair was very compatible, or the cage was just what they preferred, because from the first egg she laid the female was a good sitter. And though several authorities also suggest removing the male right away


(Radford 1986 & 1987, Rutgers and Norris 1970), my male never bothered the female while she was incubating. He did have to he removed when the chicks hatched though, as he tended to peck them when they tried to hrood under him .

. This pair raised a numher of clutches, many chicks from which went to friends and co-workers. Many of the females from this pair who were later paired with males also proved to he good sitters. After four successful clutches my old female died and I purchased her replacement at another pet store.

This is when I discovered the "typical" Button Quail female who will not huild a nest, preferring to scatter eggs around the enclosure with no thoughts of incubation. This new female always appeared more nervous than my original female, and tended to spend much of the day pacing around the tank. The male was much rougher with her than he was with his original mate. Thinking that he could he part of the prohlem I traded him to a friend for a gentle older male that she had. This calmed the female enough that she at least deposited all of her eggs in a nest in the artificial plant clump, hut the concept of incubation still eluded her.

After several more tries with different hirds I began to realize what a treasure I had had with my original female. Even a move to the floor of a large mixed-species flight cage with a


big thicket on one side for their nest attempts did not prompt any nestbuilding behavior from the pair I had at that time. I gave a number of eggs to friends for artificial incubation and hatching, but I was only interested in having chicks from parents which had cared for them.

At this point I called Cathy House, a well-known breeder of Button Quails, and explained that I was looking for a daughter from a female that would sit on her own eggs and raise her own chicks. She was kind enough to provide me with just such a female (she also very generously donated a pair of quail to Brookfield Zoo, where they resided in our mixed-species finch exhibit until their deaths). This female immediately paired with my current, very gentle male. She built a nest in the thicket, lined it with grasses that I provided, laid a clutch, then incubated. Unfortunately, her idea of the incubatioi;i period varied from two to nine days-nowhere near the required 16 days.

A friend requested some eggs, which I was glad to provide, and hatched a number of chicks. One of the female chicks proved to be beautiful and calm and was shown at a number of local bird shows where she won several ribbons. Meanwhile, her mother developed egg peritonitis in the midst of laying her latest clutch and had to be euthanized, In desperation, knowing that I didn't want to lose this "sitting" bloodline, I begged my friend for the prizewinning female. Since she did not want to breed Button Quail my friend graciously complied.

This new female proved to be as calm as her mother, and from her first serious egg-laying she built nests in the thicket area and incubated the resulting clutches. But, like her mother, she only incubated each clutch for part of the required period. She always sat very tightly for eight days and was not disturbed by her mate or the other birds in the cage. 




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