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7 Fascinating Facts About the Dark-backed Wood-Quail

The Dark-backed Wood-Quail, scientifically known as Odontophorus melanonotus, is a fascinating bird species found in the tropical forests of South America. It is particularly known for its beautiful appearance and unique characteristics that set it apart from other quail species.

In this article, we will explore the identification, plumages, molts, and other information about this bird species.


Dark-backed Wood-Quail is a medium-sized bird that measures about 27 cm in length. It weighs around 320 to 360 grams, making it one of the heaviest quail species.

The bird has a dark greyish-brown head with a small white patch on its forehead and a reddish-brown bill. Its upperparts are dark brown with distinct white spots while its underparts are greyish-brown with black barring.



The Dark-backed Wood-Quail is generally a difficult bird to spot due to its shy nature and preference for dense forest habitats. However, birdwatchers can identify this species by observing its unique plumage and listening to its distinctive calls.

The bird generally moves around on the forest floor, foraging for seeds, fruits, and insects.

Similar Species

The Dark-backed Wood-Quail is closely related to the Chestnut Wood-Quail (Odontophorus hyperythrus) and the Black-breasted Wood-Quail (Odontophorus leucolaemus). These birds share some physical traits, which can make it challenging to differentiate them, primarily when they are not singing.

However, the Dark-backed Wood-Quail has a more extensive white spot on its forehead than the Chestnut Wood-Quail and lacks the black markings on the breast found in the Black-breasted Wood-Quail.


The Dark-backed Wood-Quail species undergoes two plumages- the juvenile and adult plumages.

Juvenile Plumage

The juvenile plumage generally displays more grey on the neck and flanks compared to the adult plumage. The bird’s chest possesses more delicate black barring than the predominantly black chest of the adult bird.

Adult Plumage

The Dark-backed Wood-Quail has a unique adult plumage that makes it stand out from other quail species. The bird’s back is dark brown, with conspicuous white spots, while its underparts are greyish-brown with black barring.

Its head is mostly dark greyish-brown, with a small white patch at the forehead.


Dark-backed Wood-Quail species undergo successive molts from its juvenile stage through adult life. After hatching, the young birds are covered with fluffy down feathers.

They will undergo their first molt at around 20 to 30 days old, where they shed their down feathers and grow their juvenile feathers. The second molt occurs when the bird reaches maturity, with the replaced adult feathers acquiring the distinctive colors and patterns that characterize the species.


The Dark-backed Wood-Quail is a unique bird species that boasts of a distinctive and attractive appearance. Through this article, we have learned about its identification, plumages, and molts.

Understanding these features will come in handy when identifying this species in the wild or during birdwatching activities. However, it is crucial to observe the bird’s natural behavior while observing it in its natural habitat.

By doing so, we can help preserve their population and protect their habitat for future generations to enjoy.

Systematics History

The Dark-backed Wood-Quail, or Odontophorus melanonotus, is a bird species that belongs to the family Odontophoridae, which includes the New World quails. The scientific name of the species is derived from Greek, where “Odontophorus” means tooth-bearer, and “melanonotus” refers to the bird’s black back.

The geographic variation of the bird began to interest ornithologists in the early 19th century, and through the years, various subspecies have been identified.

Geographic Variation

The Dark-backed Wood-Quail is widely distributed in the tropical forests of South America, from Colombia to Bolivia and Brazil. They inhabit the understory of the forest, usually in the vicinity of watercourses and dense vegetation.


Over the years, ornithologists have identified various subspecies of the Dark-backed Wood-Quail. These subspecies are defined based on their geographic distribution and the slight variations in their physical appearance and vocalizations.

Odontophorus melanonotus aequatorialis is found in Colombia and northwestern Ecuador. It is characterized by its smaller size, paler plumage, and a distinctive vocalization, which is softer and less sharp than that of the other subspecies.

Odontophorus melanonotus ardens is found in northeastern Peru. It is distinguished by its bright, rufous coloration on the head and a larger overall size than other subspecies.

Odontophorus melanonotus leucolaemus is found in the eastern Andes of Colombia and eastern Ecuador. It is recognized by the black markings on its breast feathers and the white patch on its forehead.

Odontophorus melanonotus melanonotus is found in central Colombia, eastern Ecuador, Venezuela, and northern Peru. It is the typical subspecies of the Dark-backed Wood-Quail, with the typical characteristics such as black back feathers, small white patch on the forehead, and greyish-brown feathers on the underparts.

Odontophorus melanonotus nigricaudus is found in eastern Peru and western Brazil. It stands out with its extremely long and black-tipped tail feathers, compared to other subspecies.

Odontophorus melanonotus peruvianus is found in southwestern and central Peru. It has a slightly brighter appearance compared to other subspecies, with more distinct black markings on the breast feathers.

Related Species

The Dark-backed Wood-Quail is related to other species of the Odontophoridae family, such as the Rufous-breasted Wood-Quail (Odontophorus speciosus), the Black-breasted Wood-Quail (Odontophorus leucolaemus), the Chestnut Wood-Quail (Odontophorus hyperythrus), and the Marbled Wood-Quail (Odontophorus gujanensis). These birds share similar physical features and habitat preferences.

Historical Changes to Distribution

The historical changes in the distribution of the Dark-backed Wood-Quail are not entirely known. However, significant destruction of their habitats, which are tropical forests, has been observed in recent years.

The population has likely been diminishing due to the loss of their natural habitat, with increased deforestation related activities such as urbanization, logging, agriculture, and mining. This habitat loss has resulted in fragmentation of the forest, making it more difficult for the species to survive and reproduce.

Another significant factor contributing to the changes in the distribution of the Dark-backed Wood-Quail is climate change. Due to the increase in global temperatures, the bird’s natural habitat is changing, and this is affecting the species’ survival.

The changing temperatures may also result in changes to the bird’s food supply, thus further affecting their survival. Conservation efforts are necessary to protect and preserve the remaining populations of the Dark-backed Wood-Quail.

The species is included in the Red List of threatened species, creating a need for specific measures such as protection of natural habitats and endangered areas, preservation of the species’ food supply, and enforced regulations for activities that contribute to deforestation and habitat loss.


The Dark-backed Wood Quail is an interesting and unique bird species distributed widely across South America. Understanding its geographic variation, subspecies, and related species can help to identify it more accurately.

Conservation efforts are essential to protect and preserve the species due to the significant threat to their natural habitats. It is vital to take swift action to protect their natural habitats and food supply and prevent further deforestation and fragmentation of their habitat.

The Dark-backed Wood-Quail is a beautiful species, and its protection should be a priority for the preservation of our biodiversity.


The Dark-backed Wood-Quail is a bird species that is distributed widely in the tropical forests of South America. It is known to inhabit the understory and dense vegetation in humid forests.

These birds prefer areas near watercourses but also inhabit drier areas such as savannahs, secondary forests, and plantations. They tend to avoid areas with little vegetation or disturbed habitats.

The Dark-backed Wood-Quail lives in humid tropical forests that have large trees and dense understory vegetation. The canopy of the forest provides shade and protection against direct sunlight, while the dense vegetation on the forest floor provides cover and shelter.

They require a habitat with a diverse range of vegetation, including ferns, bromeliads, epiphytes, and vines, which provide cover for roosting and nesting.

Movements and Migration

The Dark-backed Wood-Quail is generally a sedentary bird, meaning that it stays in its habitat throughout the year. A few studies indicate that the bird possibly makes seasonal movements.

In the Amazon Basin, for instance, they seem to move into areas with more abundant fruiting trees to locate food resources. The Dark-backed Wood-Quail may require seasonal movements to find food, water, and nesting sites.

During the breeding season, adults are more territorial, with males performing courtship displays, indicating that breeding is more likely to occur within a specific area. Migration and movements may be influenced by ecological factors such as reduced food supplies, predation, habitat quality, and competition for resources.

These factors may cause individuals and families to move into other areas to find alternative resources. Another example of seasonal movements in the species involves the movement of individuals to lower elevations during the dry season when the fruiting season is limited at higher elevations.

Conservation Implications

The Conservations of the Dark-backed Wood-Quail species are vital, given its status such as an indicator of healthy tropical forest ecosystems, and the escalating habitat loss as an immediate threat. The species has been affected by deforestation, fragmentation, and habitat degradation as a result of human activities such as road expansion, oil, and gas exploration and development.

Other threats include climate change and forest burning, and overconsumption of forest resources causing habitat degradation, resulting in declines of numbers and distribution. To ensure that the species’ survival is sustained, it is essential to preserve the natural habitat actively.

This conservation effort can be achieved through the promotion of sustainable land-use practices and expanding protected areas, such as national parks, wildlife reserves, and conservation areas. Preventing habitat loss and fragmentation and the degradation of forest ecosystems by arresting the expansion of agriculture and promotion of sustainable use of forest resources, such as logging, might enrich conservation of the Dark-backed Wood-Quail species.

Encouraging the local community to engage in local conservation practices to protect the natural habitats of the Dark-backed Wood-Quail could foster the coexistence between the birds and the humans without resulting in ecological harm.


The habitat and movements of the Dark-backed Wood-Quail are vital aspects to understand for the species’ conservation. The species is distributed widely across the South American tropical forests, where they inhabit the understory and dense vegetation in humid forests.

They require diverse vegetations, including ferns, bromeliads, epiphytes, and vines for cover. The Dark-backed Wood-Quail is generally a sedentary bird, although some studies suggest that seasonal movements are present.

The species’ conservation efforts should entail preserving the natural habitats actively and promoting sustainable use of forest resources and sustainable land-use practices.

Diet and Foraging


The Dark-backed Wood-Quail is a ground dweller and primarily feeds on fruits, seeds, insects, and small invertebrates encountered on the forest floor. They use their feet and beaks to scratch and overturn litter, dead leaves, or soil layers in search of their food.


Based on several studies, the Dark-backed Wood-Quail is a frugivorous bird species that is attracted to fruits, particularly ripe and fleshy ones. Some of their favorite fruits include those of Cecropia trees, palm fruits, and wild avocadoes.

Caterpillars, spiders, and various insects found on the forest floor make up the protein portion of their diet.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

The Dark-backed Wood-Quail is not migratory, and they maintain their body heat through physiological changes that allow them to remain in their tropical forest habitats throughout the year. Their metabolism changes based on the seasons, with lower metabolic rates during the cold season, as a way to conserve energy.

This bird’s constant environmental exposure also puts them at risk of dehydration, and they need water to regulate their internal body temperature. Water is mostly absorbed from fruits, leaves soaked with dew or rainfall as they avoid standing water to keep from becoming visible to predators.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior


The Dark-backed Wood-Quail species is known for its vocal communication. Their calls play a significant role in attracting mates and warning members of their flock about potential threats in their environment.

During the breeding season, males perform courtship displays, accompanied by a series of loud, sharp whistles, usually given from a higher perch or in flight. The birds also give a soft, whistled contact call, which enables them to keep in touch with their mates and other members of their flock as they search for food.

They also emit a series of low-pitched hoots while moving through the forest, which may be used for navigation and foraging purposes. The Dark-backed Wood-Quail is a ground-dwelling species that communicates through their body postures, head gestures, and vocalization.

Their calls tend to be lower pitched and more explosive, which is characteristic of other quail species.

The vocalization of the Dark-backed Wood-Quail plays a major role in maintaining social relationships, territory defense, and reproduction.

Their calls enable them to communicate with their partners and other members of their flock effectively. The birds also use vocalizations to warn others of potential threats, such as predators or habitat destruction.

Conservation Implications

Tropical forests serve as important habitats for many bird species, and the Dark-backed Wood-Quail is no exception.

Habitat fragmentation, forest degradation and deforestation, and overexploitation of forest resources are major threats to the bird species.

Protecting its breeding, nesting, and foraging habitats should be a crucial conservation practice.

Sustainable forest management, preservation of forests, and use of sustainable land-use practices may boost the Dark-backed Wood-Quail’s survival.

However, conservation efforts should also prioritize preserving the bird’s natural food sources such as ripe fruits, insects, and seeds that are abundant in the tropical forest ecosystems where the bird’s habitats are located.


The Dark-backed Wood-Quail is an interesting bird species that inhabits the understory of tropical forests. Their preferred food consists of ripe fruits, seeds, insects, and small invertebrates.

The birds’ metabolism changes based on the seasons, and they utilize vocalizations as communication, to attract mates and protect their territory. While their preference for uneroded habitats might make them vulnerable to conservation threats, the preservation of their habitats and natural food sources could prolong the survival of this bird species.



The Dark-backed Wood-Quail is a bird species that primarily moves on the ground, foraging by walking and flushing to escape predators when disturbed. The bird is also capable of short flights that take them from one spot to the other, utilizing their powerful legs and wings.


Dark-backed Wood-Quail usually carries out self-maintenance by grooming themselves, as well as the social cleaning of each other. They perform preening movements by rubbing their feathers in a particular pattern to maintain their appearance and health.

These birds frequently take dust baths to clean their feathers and remove loose skin cells and parasites.

Agonistic Behavior

Agonistic behavior, especially during the breeding season, is exhibited by the Dark-backed Wood-Quail. During this time, males of the species become extremely territorial, actively competing for territory and access to females.

Agonistic behavior is displayed through various acts such as confronting each other, high posturing with fluffed feathers, circling around each other, and sometimes engaging in physical confrontation like pecking and charging.

Sexual Behavior

Like most birds, the Dark-backed Wood-Quail species engages in courtship behavior, which is typically associated with the breeding season. Courtship behavior includes the male performing a series of loud, sharp whistles, usually given from a higher perch or in flight.

This is intended to attract a female and alert others of their own species of their presence and possible territorial claim.


The breeding season of the Dark-backed Wood-Quail may occur at any time of the year but is usually affected by ecological factors, particularly rainfall variability. The birds engage in intraspecific sexual behavior, with males performing courtship displays to attract females.

During the breeding season, the males become more territorial and tend to exhibit aggressive behavior towards other males.

The nesting of the Dark-backed Wood-Quail is performed on the ground in dense vegetation.

The birds build their nests on the forest floor by excavating small depressions in the dead leaves or other ground covers for their eggs. The clutch size can range from two to six eggs, and both the male and female birds participate in incubating the eggs, which takes around 23-24 days.

The Dark-backed Wood-Quail chicks are altricial, meaning they are born helpless and dependent on their parents for

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