Turnix – Buttonquails

Barred-buttonquail gets the name after its quail-like cute little physique and remarkably patterned rufous plumage

Despite their common name, buttonquails are not related to true quails, which belong to the family Phasianidae; instead, they share a closer resemblance in habits and ecological niches. They are found across the Old World in regions ranging from Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Australian region.

Buttonquails are distinguished by their compact, rounded bodies and short tails, which give them a somewhat spherical appearance when seen scuttling through undergrowth. Their size is indeed similar to that of many true quails, but they are a distinct group of birds with their own unique characteristics and behaviors.

One of the most notable features of buttonquails is their sexual dimorphism, where the roles are somewhat reversed: females are typically more brightly colored and larger than males. The black throat and upper breast of the female barred buttonquail (Turnix suscitator), for example, are distinctive and serve as a clear identifier between the sexes. Females are also the more dominant and aggressive sex, often initiating courtship and defending territories.

Buttonquails are predominantly terrestrial birds that prefer habitats such as farmland, grasslands, and dense, weedy areas, where their cryptic plumage blends seamlessly with the surroundings. Their coloration, often a mottled pattern of reddish-brown or orange, provides excellent camouflage against the soil and dry vegetation, making them difficult to spot.

Their behavior is secretive, and they spend the majority of their time on the ground, foraging for seeds, insects, and small invertebrates with quick movements through the vegetation. Their walk is often described as a fast-paced, almost mouse-like scurry, and when flushed, they are more likely to run than fly. However, they can take to the wing with rapid, short flights if necessary.

Buttonquails construct their nests on the ground, creating a simple scrape that is lined with grass and leaves. The females lay the eggs, and the males are primarily responsible for incubation and chick-rearing, which is quite unusual in the bird world.