Bird O'clock

Unveiling the Hidden World of the Mysterious Black-breasted Buttonquail

The Black-breasted Buttonquail, also known as Turnix melanogaster, is a small bird native to the grasslands, shrublands, and open woodlands of Australia. This bird species is known for its secretive behavior and ground-dwelling habits that make it challenging to spot in the wild.

In this article, we will delve deeper into the identification of the Black-breasted Buttonquail, its plumages, molts, and similar species to help you get to know this mysterious bird better.


Field Identification

The Black-breasted Buttonquail is a tiny bird, measuring about 18-22 cm in length. This bird species features a distinctive black and white barring on its wings and small legs.

The males have a brownish crown and a black breast, while the females’ coloring is more olive-brown, with a rusty-colored crown. The eyes are large and striking, with a white ring framing them.

The bird’s call is a series of short, high-pitched whistles that are hard to hear unless you are very close.

Similar Species

The Black-breasted Buttonquail’s plumage pattern is unique, making it easier to identify in the field. However, some species share some similarities that could cause confusion.

The Chestnut-backed Buttonquail is one of them. This bird has a similar size and shape, and its plumage coloration is almost identical to that of the female Black-breasted Buttonquail.

However, the Chestnut-backed Buttonquail lacks the white eye-ring found in the Black-breasted Buttonquail.


The Black-breasted Buttonquail has two plumages, the breeding and non-breeding plumages. During breeding, the male’s plumage changes dramatically to reveal brighter, bolder colors.

This is when the males’ breast turns entirely black, contrasting with its cinnamon-colored crown. However, during the non-breeding period, the males’ breeding plumage fades, and the colors become less distinct.

The females’ plumage remains almost the same in both breeding and non-breeding periods, with the only notable difference being in the intensity of the colors.


The Black-breasted Buttonquail undergoes two molts annually, the breeding and non-breeding molts, which correspond to their respective plumages. The breeding molt occurs in May-June, and the non-breeding molt occurs from December to January.

This is the time when old feathers are replaced by new ones, giving the bird a fresh look. In conclusion, the Black-breasted Buttonquail is a fascinating bird species that is not only difficult to spot but also has a unique plumage pattern.

We hope this article has helped you identify and understand this bird better. If you happen to see one in the wild, you can marvel at its small size, striking white eye-ring, and its distinctive black and white barring on its wings.

The Black-breasted Buttonquail, scientifically known as Turnix melanogaster, is a small bird endemic to Australia. This ground-dwelling bird species belongs to a family of quails, and its systematics history, geographic variation, subspecies, related species, and historical changes to the distribution is what we will be exploring in this article.

Systematics History

The Black-breasted Buttonquail was first described in 1823 by the English ornithologist William John Swainson. Later on, in the 20th century, this bird’s systematics were studied by Alexander Wetmore and Charles Vaurie, who concluded that there were no major differences to justify separate groups.

Currently, this bird species is one of the two species within the Turnix genus in Australia.

Geographic Variation

The Black-breasted Buttonquail is found across the Australian continent, from the tropical areas of northern Queensland to the temperate southern areas. This bird species is known to occupy two subspecies, which display some variation in the intensity of their plumage colors and breast patterns.

The two subspecies are as follows:

1. Turnix melanogaster melanogaster: This subspecies is found in northern and eastern Australia, including the Cape York Peninsula and the northeastern coast.

The male Black-breasted Buttonquail from this subspecies has a black breast and cinnamon-colored crown, while the females have a rusty-colored crown and olive-brown plumage. 2.

Turnix melanogaster australis: This subspecies is distributed across southern and southwestern Australia. The males from this subspecies have a richer cinnamon-colored crown, and their breasts are less black, while the females are slightly larger and heavier than the T.m. melanogaster.


The Turnix melanogaster melanogaster and Turnix melanogaster australis are the only two subspecies of the Black-breasted Buttonquail currently recognized. However, in 1910, British ornithologist Walter Rothschild described another subspecies, the Turnix melanogaster clifoni.

This subspecies was basing on the fact that it only existed in the Chambezi forest, Tanzania, although it was later discovered that it was a completely different species, the Black-rumped Buttonquail.

Related Species

The Black-breasted Buttonquail belongs to the Turnicidae family, which includes species that are native to Africa and the Indian subcontinent. The Family Turnicidae is a monophyletic group, and the closest living relatives to the Black-breasted Buttonquail are the Painted Buttonquail (T.

varia) and the Barred Buttonquail (T. suscitator).

The genus Turnix is unique among the order of Galliformes, which constitutes game birds, in the sense that they share some features with rails and cranes than they do with quails.

Historical Changes to Distribution

Historically, the Black-breasted Buttonquail populated a larger area than its current range. The bird species is known to have existed on the island of Tasmania in the past, but its presence is no longer felt there.

The primary reason behind the decline in the Black-breasted Buttonquail distribution is habitat loss due to land-use changes, particularly the development of urban and agricultural areas. Moreover, the bird has also suffered from predation by introduced mammals like foxes, cats, and rats.

In conclusion, the Black-breasted Buttonquail is a unique bird species that has survived for centuries despite the various challenges it is facing. Its systematics history, geographic variation, subspecies, related species, and historical changes to distribution provide insight into the evolution of this bird species and the challenges it faces.

Studying this bird helps us understand how human actions affect wildlife and how we can better protect them and their natural habitat. The Black-breasted Buttonquail (Turnix melanogaster) is a ground-dwelling bird that is endemic to the Australian continent.

This bird species is known for its secretive behavior, which makes it challenging to spot, and it can be found in a variety of habitats across Australia. In this article, we will delve deeper into the habitat, movements, and migration patterns of the Black-breasted Buttonquail.


The Black-breasted Buttonquail is known to inhabit a range of ecosystems throughout Australia. This bird species can be found in shrublands, grasslands, open woodlands, wetlands, floodplains, and areas with tall grasses.

Additionally, this bird prefers areas with dense ground-level vegetation, which it uses to conceal itself and protect itself from predators. The Black-breasted Buttonquail is not known to be migratory, and it generally lives in one area throughout the year.

Movements and Migration

The Black-breasted Buttonquail is non-migratory, and it is predominantly a sedentary species. However, it is known to make seasonal movements within its habitats to find adequate food and water supply.

During the wet season, these birds shift to areas with a higher density of green vegetation and water. Conversely, during the dry season, they move to locations with deeper soil to find enough food and water.

This bird species has a home range of about 2 to 5 hectares, and during breeding, the home ranges of both males and females overlap. These movements are also influenced by geological factors like wildfires that can temporarily limit the habitat of this bird species.

In case of habitat loss, the birds shift to nearby undisturbed areas but prefer not to travel too far outside their home ranges. The Black-breasted Buttonquail has a distinctive behavior of mostly walking instead of flying.

This is partly due to their physique as they are too small and heavy-bodied for extended periods of flight. Migration is not typical for this bird species, mainly because they are already found in tropical regions, and there is limited variation in temperature between summer and winter.

With no need to travel long distances for food or to flee from harsh climatic conditions, Black-breasted Buttonquails usually remain in their preferred habitats virtually throughout the year. However, changes in weather patterns, such as extreme drought or significant weather fluctuations, may force the birds to migrate to other areas.

In such cases, only a temporary migration occurs, where they move to find more favorable climatic conditions. The seasonal movements of the Black-breasted Buttonquail are typically influenced by the availability of food and water resources throughout the year.

As such, prolonged periods of drought or excessive rainfall may lead to the birds’ local movements in search of abundant food and water. In conclusion, the Black-breasted Buttonquail is a non-migratory bird that lives in a variety of habitats throughout Australia and has seasonal movements to find adequate food and water supply.

As a ground-dwelling bird, walking is the primary mode of transportation for the Black-breasted Buttonquail, mainly due to its heavy body. Understanding the movements and migration patterns of this bird species is essential in developing long-term strategies for habitat preservation and conservation.

The Black-breasted Buttonquail, also known as Turnix melanogaster, is a ground-dwelling bird species that is endemic to Australia. This bird species has unique characteristics that enable it to survive and thrive in the various ecosystems it inhabits.

In this article, we will delve deeper into two of these features, diet and foraging, and sounds and vocal behavior.

Diet and Foraging

The Black-breasted Buttonquail has a generalist diet and feeds on a variety of small, ground-dwelling invertebrates. These include spiders, insects, snails, and small crustaceans, like small freshwater shrimp.

Additionally, this bird species can also feed on seeds, tubers, and occasionally berries. The Black-breasted Buttonquail forages on the ground, mainly using its bill to rake through the leaf litter and soil in search of food.

This bird species’ specialized diet and foraging method are due to its small size and mainly ground-dwelling nature. The feeding behavior of the Black-breasted Buttonquail is characterized by frequent snatching of food items with their beaks.

During feeding, this bird species uses its beak to grasp, hold, and pull out the prey. Since it feeds on ground-dwelling prey, it is highly adapted for foraging on the forest floor and able to detect delicacies that are hidden underneath leaves and grasses.


The Black-breasted Buttonquail has a relatively high metabolic rate, which requires it to eat frequently throughout the day. This bird species has a unique adaptation that allows it to digest its food and regulate its body temperature efficiently.

The Black-breasted Buttonquail has an enlarged cecum, which is a pouch-like structure located within its digestive tract. The cecum contains bacteria that ferments ingested food, allowing the bird to extract nutrients such as proteins, vitamins, and minerals from its diet.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

The Black-breasted Buttonquail’s metabolism and temperature regulation are unique, considering their habitat and lifestyle. This bird species tends to prefer environments with high temperature, so it has to adapt to regulate its body temperature and ensure that its metabolic processes function correctly.

To regulate their temperature, this bird species pant to release heat, reducing their body temperature. This adaptation is useful, especially during hot periods when the Black-breasted Buttonquail needs to cool down to avoid dehydration.

Sounds and Vocal


The Black-breasted Buttonquail has several vocalizations that are mostly used during the breeding season. The bird produces whistling calls that are high-pitched and can carry over long distances.

These calls are usually shorter and sharper among males, who are known for competitive duets during the breeding seasons. The calls are performed in a sequence of one-two syllables.

During the non-breeding season, the Black-breasted Buttonquail tends to be more silent than vocal. This is partly due to its secretive and solitary nature, suggesting that these birds only vocalize during breeding for procreation purposes.

In conclusion, the Black-breasted Buttonquail is a unique bird species that has adapted to a ground-dwelling lifestyle and has specialized feeding behavior. This bird species has a generalist diet of invertebrates and is highly adapted to foraging on the forest floor.

The Black-breasted Buttonquail has specialized metabolism and temperature regulation that allow it to maintain a high metabolic rate and regulate its body temperature efficiently. The vocalizations of this bird species are mostly heard during the breeding season, suggesting that it is a crucial tool in mating and procreation.

The Black-breasted Buttonquail (Turnix melanogaster) is a ground-dwelling bird species endemic to Australia. This bird species has a unique set of behaviors that help it survive and thrive in the various ecosystems it inhabits.

In this article, we will delve deeper into the various behavioral patterns like locomotion, self-maintenance, agonistic behavior, sexual behavior, breeding, and demography and populations of the Black-breasted Buttonquail.


Locomotion: The Black-breasted Buttonquail is primarily a ground-dwelling bird and walks more than it flies. Their small size and weight make it difficult for them to fly unless it is for short distances.

They walk on the tips of their toes, which enhances their balance and agility, enabling them to move quickly through dense underbrush and other habitats. Self-Maintenance: The Black-breasted Buttonquail has a unique way of grooming themselves since they are ground-dwellers and constantly exposed to dirt, dust, and parasites from the soil.

The bird fluffs its feathers to shake off the dirt and dust from their body, then use their beaks to pick out and remove parasites from their skin. Agonistic

Behavior: When provoked, the Black-breasted Buttonquail uses a series of calls that help it to defend its territory from rivals and predators.

The bird also adopts a set of aggressive behaviors like wing-flicking, aggressive displays, and sometimes attacks its opponent to establish its dominance. Sexual

Behavior: During the breeding season, the Black-breasted Buttonquail engages in some unique sexual behaviors.

The male birds perform a mating dance for the female bird, raising their wings and running in circles around the female. During copulation, the male mounts the female from behind.


The breeding season of the Black-breasted Buttonquail varies depending on their geographic location within the Australian continent. In the northern parts of Australia, the breeding season is typically during the hot and humid months between September and February.

In contrast, in the southern parts of Australia, the breeding season occurs from October to December. The male Black-breasted Buttonquail initiates mating by engaging in an intense courtship dance in which he runs around the female with his wings held up high.

The male then preens and grooms his feathers before mounting the female for copulation, which lasts only a few seconds. After mating, the female will lay a clutch of 2-4 cream-colored eggs that are speckled with brown markings.

The female may lay up to three clutches during one breeding season. The female incubates the eggs for 14-16 days before hatching.

Once the eggs hatch, both the male and female parent the chicks.

Demography and Populations

The Black-breasted Buttonquail has an extensive range in Australia, and populations are considered to be stable. However, the bird species is associated with a decline in its population due to habitat loss caused by urbanization and farming activities.

The bird is also affected by the introduction of predators like cats and foxes, which prey on both adults and chicks. Monitoring the population of the Black-breasted Buttonquail is challenging, considering its secretive and ground-dwelling nature.

Surveys conducted primarily rely on call detection to estimate their distribution, abundance, and population density. These methods are not always accurate, and as such, the real decline in the population may be underestimated.

In conclusion, the Black-breasted Buttonquail is a unique bird species that engages in several unique behavioral patterns that are crucial to its survival and the mating process. During the breeding season, the male performs intricate courtship displays to attract the female.

The bird’s population density is stable, but conservationists are concerned about their population trend’s decline due to habitat loss and the introduction of predators.

Habitat conservation and predator control measures are necessary for the long-term conservation of the Black-breasted Buttonquail.

In conclusion, the Black-breasted Buttonquail is a fascinating ground-dwelling bird species endemic to Australia. It exhibits unique characteristics such as its adaptation to ground-level foraging, specialized feeding behavior, efficient metabolism

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