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7 Fascinating Facts About Buff-breasted Buttonquail

Have you ever heard of a bird that looks like a quail but behaves more like an ant? Meet the Buff-breasted Buttonquail, or Turnix olivii – a unique bird species that is often overlooked in birding circles due to its secretive behavior.

In this article, we’ll delve into the identification of this bird, including its plumages and molts, as well as highlight similar species that it may be mistaken for in the field.


Field Identification: The Buff-breasted Buttonquail is a small, ground-dwelling bird with a distinct, quail-like appearance.

Its overall plumage is buff-colored with brown streaks on its upperparts, and it has a short, rounded tail. However, while it may resemble a quail, this bird is not closely related to that family and is more similar to rails and crakes.

One of the best ways to identify this species is by its vocalizations – a distinctive “kowt” or “buht-buht” call that it often makes while foraging on the ground.

Similar Species: It’s easy to mistake the Buff-breasted Buttonquail for other ground-dwelling birds in its range, but there are a few key characteristics to look out for.

The Painted Buttonquail, for example, has a more colorful plumage with a red face and yellow legs. The Black-breasted Buttonquail also has a similar buff-colored plumage but has a black patch on its chest, distinguishing it from the Buff-breasted.


The Buff-breasted Buttonquail has two main plumages – a breeding plumage and a non-breeding plumage. During the breeding season, which occurs from August to December in its range, the male’s plumage becomes more vibrant with brighter buff coloration and a darker stripe on its head.

Meanwhile, the female’s plumage remains relatively unchanged. In the non-breeding season, both sexes have more muted plumage that is browner overall.


The molting patterns of the Buff-breasted Buttonquail are not well-documented, but it is known to have two primary molting periods in a year. These generally occur in the non-breeding season, although the timing can vary based on environmental factors such as rainfall.

During a molt, birds replace their worn-out feathers with new ones, and they may appear scruffy or patchy during this time.

In conclusion, the Buff-breasted Buttonquail is a fascinating bird that is often overlooked in birding circles due to its secretive behavior.

By understanding its unique characteristics and vocalizations, birders can identify this species in the field and discern it from similar species. The Buff-breasted’s distinct breeding and non-breeding plumages, as well as its molting patterns, add further insight into the life cycle of this enigmatic bird.

of the topic, as the main focus is on providing information about the history and distribution of the Buff-breasted Buttonquail. Systematics History:

The Buff-breasted Buttonquail, Turnix olivii, falls under the family Turnicidae, which is in the order Charadriiformes.

The turnicids are also known as buttonquails and are small, ground-dwelling birds found mainly in Asia and Africa. The buttonquails differ from other members of the Charadriiformes in anatomical features, such as their size, wing shape, and plumage.

Geographic Variation:

The Buff-breasted Buttonquail inhabits a range of habitats from dry grasslands to scrublands and woodland edges throughout the Indian subcontinent, parts of Southeast Asia, and northern Australia. It is found from Pakistan in the west to Thailand and the Philippines in the east.

There is a distinct divide between the subspecies found in India and those found in Southeast Asia. Individual variation is seen in various aspects within the species, including size, bill length, and plumage.


The Buff-breasted Buttonquail has at least six known subspecies that differ mainly in their geographic distribution and plumage characteristics:

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olivii (India and Sri Lanka)

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castaneiceps (Myanmar, Thailand, and Indochina)

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delicatulus (Philippines)

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nigriceps (Malaysia and Borneo)

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schwaneri (Sulawesi)

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pallidior (New Guinea and nearby islands)

Each subspecies shows differences in plumage, with T. o.

castaneiceps having richer buff tones than the other subspecies and the Philippine subspecies being much paler overall. Overall, subspecies show a great deal of overlap in the genes they carry, and more detailed genetic studies are necessary to explore genetic differences across the range of the species.

Related Species:

The closest relatives of the Buff-breasted Buttonquail are the Australian Painted Buttonquail (Turnix varius) and the Black-breasted Buttonquail (Turnix melanogaster), both of which are also found in northern Australia. These three buttonquails form a distinct clade within the family Turnicidae, which are characterised by their small size, dense plumage, and ground-dwelling habits.

Historical Changes to Distribution:

The range of the Buff-breasted Buttonquail has undergone significant historical changes due to various reasons. Humans have impacted the bird’s distribution by clearing forests, overgrazing pastures and converting grasslands to farmland.

These activities have reduced the availability of suitable habitat for the bird, and its populations have declined. For example, in Thailand, it was found that agricultural activities such as the use of pesticides and herbicides have had a significant impact on the Buff-breasted Buttonquail populations.

The bird has disappeared from many areas where it used to be abundant, and since then, conservation efforts have been put in place to safeguard its remaining populations. Other factors, such as historical climate and geological changes, have also impacted the range of the species over long periods.

Climatic changes during the Pleistocene led to significant shifts in vegetation, which subsequently altered habitat quality and availability. The species’ current range and its different subspecies may reflect re-colonization from glacial refugia, albeit with ongoing genetic exchange.

Recent studies have shown that the distribution range of the Buff-breasted Buttonquail is becoming increasingly fragmented. The bird is known to be very sensitive to habitat fragmentation, as many populations may be genetically isolated, with potential loss of genetic variation and diversity.

Loss of genetic diversity may weaken the species and render it more vulnerable to disease outbreaks. In conclusion, the Buff-breasted Buttonquail is a unique bird species that has undergone historical distribution changes due to various factors, including human impact and climatic and geological changes.

The species has different subspecies that show various morphological and genetic differences and inhabit different ranges. As populations of this species continue to decline, there is an increasing need to implement conservation efforts to safeguard the remaining populations and their habitats.

Further genetic studies and distribution surveys are necessary to better understand the genetic and geographic diversity of this fascinating bird species. of the topic, as the main focus is on providing information about the habitat, movements, and migration of the Buff-breasted Buttonquail.


The Buff-breasted Buttonquail is a resident bird of the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and northern Australia, where it inhabits open habitats such as dry grasslands, scrublands, and woodland edges. It requires a mosaic of vegetation ranging from closed shrublands to open grasslands to thrive in its habitat and is frequently associated with sandy or pebble-covered ground, either near waterbodies, or dry areas where it finds respite from heat.

The bird has a wide tolerance for a changing environment within its habitat, and it can adapt to dry conditions with food from the ground or by changing its diet to survive on micro invertebrates that are available during droughts. The Buff-breasted Buttonquail is a ground-dwelling bird and spends most of its time foraging for food on the ground surface.

It uses its strong legs and feet for scratching the soil to unearth insects and small invertebrates. This bird plays a critical role in the ecosystems and functions as a seed disperser.

Even though their diet has not been intensely studied, it is believed that the species feeds on small insects, seeds, and green plants.

Movements and Migration:

The movements and migration behaviour of the Buff-breasted Buttonquail is not fully understood, but their movements are influenced by environmental factors such as rainfall, food availability and vegetation cover.

The bird often moves during high rainfall years in search of food, with birds found in areas where conditions are suitable. Adult Buff-breasted Buttonquail are generally sedentary, with small-scale movements such as dispersal in juvenile birds or breeding season migrations representing the bulk of the movements.

Studies reveal that in non-breeding areas of Southeast Asia, the bird may undergo some altitudinal migration, moving from higher to lower elevations during the dry, winter months. These habitats are preferred by the bird since it provides the species more resources during harsh environmental conditions.

In Australia, the birds movements during the winter coincide with the flowering of the shrubs in the desert, and they are known to cover short distances in search of their preferred habitat, specifically around water sources. Recent research on this species demonstrates that it is greatly affected by land-use changes brought about by threats such as urbanisation and habitat fragmentation, which are possible threats to their movement patterns and migration.

The destruction and fragmentation of the bird’s habitat could lead to a reduction in the species’ ability to move from one location to another, impacting the bird’s population and genetic diversity. Furthermore, the species may face additional challenges during its migration pattern, which can become affected by climate change or weather events.

As this species is not well studied, ongoing research will provide further insight and understanding to their movements and the influencing factors thereof, which can prepare the species better to protect the species’ future. In conclusion, the Buff-breasted Buttonquail is a bird species that is resident to the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and northern Australia, and its movements are influenced by environmental factors such as rainfall, food availability, and vegetation cover.

The bird is a ground-dwelling species and plays a critical role in the ecosystem. The species’ movements could become affected by threats such as urbanisation, climate change, and habitat fragmentation, where it alters the movement patterns and migration of the species.

Further research on the species will equip bird conservationists to conserve the species and its migratory routes. of the topic, as the main focus is on providing information about the diet and foraging behaviour, as well as the vocalization of Buff-breasted Buttonquail.

Diet and Foraging


The Buff-breasted Buttonquail is a ground-dwelling bird, which spends most of its time foraging on the ground surface. It is an omnivorous species and consumes a wide variety of food, including insects, spiders, and small invertebrates such as snails and earthworms.

It also feeds on green plants, occasionally consuming seeds and fruits when other food sources are scarce. Diet:

The species has an opportunistic selection of food based on the availability of different resources in its habitat.

The Buff-breasted Buttonquails diet may vary seasonally and geographically, and its feeding behaviour is also influenced by the vegetation cover, specifically in relation to the microhabitats available to the bird. Buff-breasted Buttonquail may form small groups while feeding, copying behaviours of other species like Striated Herons.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation:

The Buff-breasted Buttonquail has a unique metabolism and is capable of surviving in extreme conditions. The species has a high metabolic rate that enables it to regulate body temperature, which is essential for its survival.

In the harsh summer months, the species may avoid foraging during the mid-day heat. In contrast, in the cooler months, they forage throughout the day.

The bird relies on waterbodies, particularly during the dry season, and shifts to a diet mostly of micro invertebrates. They often consume small droplets of water from the blades of grass, which they may also shake to induce the formation of moisture.

Sounds and Vocal



The Buff-breasted Buttonquail has a distinctive vocalization pattern, which often makes it easier to identify its presence in the wild. The male produces a classic kowt or buht-buht call, which it often uses during courtship.

The female bird may also vocalize but with a lesser amplitude for communication with its young. The calls of the Buff-breasted Buttonquail depend on the environment and may vary during breeding season or non-breeding season.

The vocalization of the species may serve as a significant function across the bird’s lifecycle and survival. The males, in particular, use vocalization to establish their territories during breeding season.

Male birds will often perform a vertical “song flight,” which involves spiralling and ascending, while calling at the same time, in an attempt to claim territory and attract mates. Apart from vocalization, there are also visual displays that the bird uses to communicate its territorial boundaries to other birds and to ensure its survival.

In conclusion, the Buff-breasted Buttonquail is an omnivorous bird species that feeds mainly on insects, spiders, small invertebrates, and green plants. The species’ diet and foraging behaviour vary geographically and seasonally and depends on the availability of food sources in the habitat.

The bird has a unique metabolism that allows it to survive extreme conditions while regulating its body temperature. The Buff-breasted Buttonquail emits a distinctive “kowt” or “buht-buht” call that is used for communication functions, especially during the males’ courtship display.

Further studies on these vocal behaviours will improve our understanding of the ecology, behaviour, and survival of Buff-breasted Buttonquail. of the topic, as the main focus is on providing information about the behaviour, breeding, demography and population of the Buff-breasted Buttonquail.



The Buff-breasted Buttonquail is a ground-dwelling bird species that often moves more quickly than one would expect for a bird of its size. It has an efficient and effective means of getting around, using its powerful legs to move while conserving energy by occasionally pausing and then hopping or walking again.

The bird’s movements are also influenced by its habitat, as it can run through dense vegetation by zigzagging and moving in a circular pattern to avoid predators. Self Maintenance:

The species also carries out behaviours related to not only foraging but self-maintenance too.

It regularly bathes in water as a means of keeping its plumage clean. The bird may also dust bathe by rolling in dry soil or sand, which helps to keep its plumage free of parasites and maintain its body temperature by eliminating excess moisture.



Individuals of the species may show agonistic behaviours with other members of the same species during breeding season competition. Sexual behaviour:

The Buff-breasted Buttonquail is a monogamous bird species, with pairs forming during breeding season.

During this time, males perform courtship displays by flying up vertically spiralling with its vocalization. Breeding:

The breeding season of the Buff-breasted Buttonquail varies geographically, in South-East Asia, breeding occurs roughly in February and in India, from August to November.

The species typically forms pairs during the breeding season, with the males engaging in courtship displays to attract females.

The females construct a ground scrape to lay their eggs, with the nest usually positioned in a concealed position among vegetation, under the shrubbery.

The female typically lays 3 or 4 eggs, which are incubated for 17 to 19 days. After hatching, the chicks are precocial, needing only a few hours to dry before following their parents and engage in feeding themselves.

The Buff-breasted Buttonquail’s nests are vulnerable to predation, with several species known to predate them, such as snakes and small carnivorous mammals.

Demography and Populations:

The Buff-breasted Buttonquail’s population size varies in different regions, with significant declines noted in some areas due to habitat encroachment and other anthropogenic factors.

The species is under a growing threat of habitat destruction, especially as a result of changing agricultural practices and mining development. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has classified the species as being “Near Threatened,” with a decreasing population trend.

The species population trends are difficult to interpret due to its secretive and elusive behaviour, such that the population estimates available for certain years may represent an incomplete and unreliable data set. However, the population trends of the species are generally thought to be in decline, with habitat fragmentation being a significant threat to the bird’s continued survival.

In conclusion, the Buff-breasted Buttonquail shows unique behavioural patterns such as its efficient locomotion, self-maintenance behaviour, agonistic behaviour, and its monogamous sexual habits. The bird species breeds in a particular season depending on the region, and it lays a clutch of 3-4 eggs which are incubated for17-19 days.

The species need conservation efforts since the broad picture of the populations in Southeast Asia, for instance, is unclear, but it is clear that they face a significant threat due to habitat

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