Chinese painted quail (button quail) - Coturnix chinensis

Chinese painted quail or button quailOrigins: Eastwards from the Indian sub-continent to the Philippines, Indonesia and northern Australia. Also occurs in South Africa.

Length: 13cm (5in).

Appearance: Cocks instantly recognisable by white and black markings on the face, bluish breast and reddish-brown plumage on their underparts. Both sexes have mottled brownish feathering on the back. Underparts in hens are similarly marked, but lighter. Chicks are dark brown on hatching, with a pale yellow throat and two distinctive pale brown stripes running right down the body.

Variants: The huge distribution of these quails has led to differences arising in some populations. Domestic strains in Europe originate from the Asian form (C. c. chinensis), whereas those in Australia may be linked to the darker and more clearly marked subspecies found in eastern part of the range of these quails. The southern African form (C. c. adamsoni) has a slate-grey suffusion over the feathering of its back, with the underparts being dark grey.   

Silver Chinese painted quailColour forms: The silver mutation (see right) is most widely-kept. This is an autosomal recessive form, in terms of its colour inheritance. Silvery colour predominates, but the chestnut plumage again provides an easy way to distinguish the sexes at a glance. Other colour variants include white, as well as pied. Dilute forms of the normal, which are paler in colour, have also been recorded. In the case of the cinnamon, the dark areas of brown plumage are lighter than in the normal.

Sociability rating: Ideal for an aviary containing finches or smaller softbills, not proving disruptive in such surroundings. Cocks must never be housed together however, as they will fight viciously.

Suitability: Must have plenty of space. Not suitable for cage surroundings, in view of their active natures. Best housed in a planted aviary, with a special low quail hatch provided to give them access to the aviary shelter.

Good drainage in the flight is important to prevent their plumage becoming muddy.  Quite hardy but newly-hatched chicks in particular need to be protected from heavy rain.  Snow can leave them vulnerable to frostbite and chilling, as they roost on the ground. Always encourage these birds to retreat to the shelter at night.  

Feeding: Very straightforward, but do not expect Chinese painted quails to subsist entirely on food scattered by birds feeding above them. They should be provided with a mixture of small grass seeds, especially various millets as well as groats, along with fine grit to aid their digestion. Their messy feeding habits - scattering seed widely - mean this should be offered in a special quail feeder, which reduces wastage. Cuttlefish bone must be within reach as a source of calcium. Plenty of greenfood, such as chopped chickweed, should be offered regularly, while especially when there are young chicks, both softbill food and egg food will usually be consumed readily.

Chinese painted quail or button quailBreeding:
It is usual to keep these birds in trios comprised of one cock and two hens. This means that hens are invariably in short supply, and can cost as much as a pair of these quails. Cocks typically become very aggressive when in breeding condition, so provide plenty of cover in the flight, helping hens to escape persecution.

Otherwise, the constant attention from their would-be partner will result in the loss of feathering on the lower back of hens, and possibly on the neck as well. Especially where cover is limited, hens may simply scatter their eggs at random, rather than incubating these themselves. Abandoned eggs can be hatched quite easily in a suitable incubator.   

Breeding data: 4-14 eggs. Incubation lasts 18 days or so, with the hen sitting alone. The chicks should be removed by the time they are a month old, and should continue to be provided with chick crumbs for a further week or so.

Young Chinese painted quail chicks are tiny - about the size of a bumblebee and can slip through mesh which is 0.5in (1.25cm) square, so place a secure barrier around the base of the aviary to prevent them from slipping out at this stage.

Potential lifespan: Up to 8 years or so.