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The Sub-Tropical Button Quail
Chinese Blue Breasted Quail
It’s likely that you have heard of quail before and you’re relatively familiar with their popularity as a game bird. However, Chinese Blue Breasted Quail are an entirely different story. Due to their unusually small size, these birds were given the nickname “Button Quail” by Americans, the masters of shortening names of stuff that which has a long name.
What are they?
Chinese Blue Breasted Quail are a small species of quail that are found wild in the South East sub-tropics of the Chinese provinces. The quail were kept in small bamboo cages surrounding Chinese gardens because it is believed by natives that they are a fortune of good luck and as it spiked the interest of European tourists (we all know how much people love anything that is said to bring good luck… just ask the rabbits) so they brought them home. It wasn’t until American soldiers saw these birds during World War II that they were given the name “Button Quail”; soldiers commented on how small the chicks were when they hatched and compared them to the size of their coat buttons. When they are full grown they stand at about 4 inches tall and 5 inches long and weigh anywhere between 40-80 grams. Sound adorable yet?
What do they do?
Unlike most flightless birds, these quail don’t perch at all. In fact, these birds are incredibly clumsy and often fall off of perches that they attempt to climb. In the wild they live in tall grass, often surrounding a body of water and they live off of small grass seeds and grubs. The button quail, like game quail, will take off when startled and they can hover for a great distance. This defense can be dangerous for the quail in captivity as they can occasionally break their necks when hitting a ceiling. The quail love company and hens will lay a clutch of eggs anywhere from 8-20 eggs, most often settling for a number in between.
Do they have a purpose in captivity?
You might be surprised, but there is a functional use for these pea-sized birds. As it is, the quail are rather easy going and are much like little garbage disposals. This is why the buttons are most commonly housed at the bottom of large aviaries; to pick up dropped seed and do a little maintenance down below. More recently, however, these little birds have become popular pets and can occasionally be found in your local pet store.
Don't confuse them!
Almost anyone who has heard of these birds will refer to them as “button” quail. However, the Americans were a little short on their ornithology when they so cleverly named these birds as there is a pre-existing button quail… and it’s not even a quail! Don’t worry though, telling them apart is fairly simple; Chinese Blue Breasted Quail have four toes (one on the back of their legs), and the real Button Quail only have three!
Why do we care?
A year ago, if someone had explained these birds to me, I likely would have laughed and dismissed any desire to waste my time cleaning up after such a seemingly useless animal. I was out of town Christmas shopping, however, and I came across these quail in a small pet store, and it was certainly not what I was planning on bringing home; I wasn’t even entirely sure that my bulldog, who was impatiently waiting in the truck, wouldn’t try to eat it. So, I walked passed these birds ten or fifteen times before I decided life was too short and I needed to inquire about the birds. Having worked in pet stores for years before managing my business, it was clear to me that the clerk, although very enthusiastic, didn’t know much about these birds. I figured it wasn’t something that Google couldn’t educate me on, and asked her to pack up the sad, half bald bird for me. I have a thing for pathetic looking animals.
I was told my button quail was a boy, but to my surprise, Perry (who was now incredibly friendly) started laying eggs not long after I brought him home. Shortly thereafter, I found Perry a hubby, Walter, and now they are a happy couple producing their own chicks and letting me incubate their popcorn sized eggs. My slightly neurotic quail are right at the door of our business and they bring a smile to everyone’s face as they walk in. They make incredible sounds as well!