Native to Southeast Asia, Africa, and Australia, the Button Quail is quite popular in aviculture. Although there are many species known as “Button Quail”, the Chinese Painted Quail is the most commonly kept and is often used synonymously when referring to captive Button Quail. Not only do Button Quail make attractive pets, but they are efficient at cleaning seeds off of the bottoms of aviaries and for this reason are kept by many aviculturists who have larger enclosures.
Button Quail are useful little birds, eating much of the seed that other birds in the aviary can spill. They get along quite well with other birds of other species that are kept in their enclosures, and the only worry is that the Button Quail can be bullied due to its small size. Males will fight if there is more than one male present in a group with females in it. Button Quail do not make much noise and may quickly become accustomed to handling.
When startled, the Button Quail will fly straight up into the air. Button Quail like to take dust baths, and you can help them bathe by placing a container of sand in their enclosure. They also like to hide and play in branches on the floor of the aviary. Although Button Quail do well in outdoor aviaries, they can also be kept in enclosures as small as canary cages. Because their feet are not made for perching, Chinese Painted Quail will usually need an aviary with a solid bottom. Button quail are generally not that easy to tame. They tame best if hand-raised, especially singly, but not always. With adult quails, hens tame more easily than males, and some buttons resist all efforts to gain their trust and remain quite wild and skittish their entire lives.
Button Quails are the smallest of the quails and reach about four inches in height at maturity. They come in a variety of colors, with silver or gray being one of the most popular. Usually the male will have a black and white bib under the chin. Females are usually plumper and may be larger than males, and in some mutations they may be colored differently. A more accurate method of sexing, however, is to measure the vent spacing.
Male Button Quail should not be kept together, because they may fight to the death. It has been reported that males may do well together if there are no females present. The introduction of a female will induce fighting. Buttons can be kept in pairs, but also do well in trios or fours as long as there is still only one male in any group of females, and there is sufficient floor space for them. They do have a distinct pecking order and it has been reported that the darker Button Quail will often pick on the lighter ones.
Because they fly straight up when startled, the roof of a Button Quail’s enclosure must be cushioned or moveable to prevent serious injury or death to the bird. Because Button Quail lay so many large eggs, females may need calcium supplements.
The Button Quail needs a high protein diet. This can be achieved by feeding gamebird crumble which is 22-24% protein. Medicated feed is not suggested. The base diet can be supplemented with fruits, vegetables, and green food in addition to insects such as crickets. Mealworms can also be given, but they are fatty, and should be given sparingly, no more than six a day. Fresh water needs to be available to them at all times. They will also need a bit of grit from time to time.
Button Quail lay between four and eight eggs on average. They lay most eggs during the summer months, and when day lengths are significantly shortened, Button Quail may stop laying. Generally Button Quail may abandon eggs after laying if they are in a large aviary, and you may have to collect the eggs to incubate them. When left alone, Button Quail will sometimes incubate their own eggs. Usually this will take 16 to 20 days. Generally the female will sit while the male guards the nesting site.
The babies can be hand raised in a towel-lined cardboard box heated by a 40-watt bulb about three inches from the ground. They can be fed by spreading the food over the ground, and their water bowl should have marbles in it so the chicks cannot drown. Button Quail may quickly develop the ability to fly, so the aviary should have some sort of lid that the chicks cannot injure themselves on if they fly up into it too quickly. Chicks are so tiny that entire broods can be kept in five-gallon aquariums with non-skid liner bottoms until they are independent.