Turnicidae – Buttonquails

One of the few bird families that have only three toes as the hind toe is missing

Buttonquails or hemipodes, which are part of the Turnicidae family, are small birds that live on the ground and may resemble quails, but they are not closely related to the quails of the Phasianidae family. Instead, they share a closer ancestry with the shorebirds.

Buttonquails are characterized by their brown, camouflaged plumage which allows them to blend seamlessly with their grassland and open forest habitats. They possess short, narrow beaks adapted for picking seeds and insects from the ground. Their wings are short and rounded, and while they are capable of flight, they are primarily terrestrial and rely on running and stealth to escape predators.

One of the most distinctive traits of buttonquails is the absence of a hind toe. Their feet have only three toes, which is an adaptation to their life on the ground. The lack of a hind toe reduces weight and possibly increases their running efficiency.

Buttonquails are distributed widely across the Old World, from southern Europe and Africa to Australia and the Solomon Islands. They inhabit a variety of warm, dry regions, including tropical and subtropical zones, as well as temperate areas. Their preferred environments are typically low grassy or brushy areas, such as forest clearings, secondary growth, woodland edges, savannas, and grasslands.

These birds are primarily nocturnal, with much of their foraging activity occurring under the cover of darkness. They feed on a diet consisting of both seeds and insects, which they find among the leaf litter and soil.

Buttonquails are unique among birds in that they lay their eggs on the ground in a shallow nest or scrape. The female is often more brightly colored than the male, and in many species, she is also larger and more dominant. After laying her eggs, the female may leave them to be incubated by the male while she seeks another mate, a breeding system known as polyandry.