Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Bird of the month: Painted Button-quail

Posted on 18 July, 2023 by Ivan

Welcome to Bird of the month, a partnership between Connecting Country and BirdLife Castlemaine District. Each month we’re taking a close look at one special local bird species. We’re excited to join forces to deliver you a different bird each month, seasonally adjusted, and welcome suggestions from the community. We are blessed to have the brilliant Jane Rusden and Damian Kelly from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about our next bird of the month, accompanied by their stunning photos.

Painted Button-quail (Turnix varius)


It’s always exciting to find side plate-sized, circular patches of bare dirt in amongst leaf litter, because in the Castlemaine region it can only mean one thing … quiet, cryptic and difficult to see Painted Button-quail. Recently I found these bare patches in the bush by my front gate, hidden in leaf litter under shrubs. These “platelets” of cleared ground are formed whilst the bird is foraging, by standing on one foot and rotating in a tight circle as they scratch the ground with the other foot. In NSW and Qld Black-breasted Button-quail also make platelets, making both species of Button-quail rather unusual. So what are Painted Button-quails searching the ground for? Their delicious dinner of course, which comprises of insects and their larvae, seeds, small fruits, berries and vegetation. So their diet is pretty broad.

A “platelet” made by Painted Button-quail while foraging. Photo by Jane Rusden


Dry open forest with sparse shrubs, and a ground cover of native grasses and dense leaf litter, in Muckleford Forest for example, is perfect habitat for Painted Button-quail. Being such a camouflaged species which tends to walk from cover to cover, historically it’s been difficult to accurately assess their numbers and distribution. However, using newly developed technology such as sound recording, motion-detecting and thermal camera, cryptic species such as the Painted Button-quail have become easier to monitor. Interestingly they have been found in a diverse range of habitats from dry ridges in moister forest, in coastal sand dunes and even forest edges where it abuts farmland. Curiously, Painted Button-quails will move into a newly burnt area after fire, but once the forest returns, they leave. This has been observed in the Otway Ranges and in Tasmania.

The female Painted Button-quail lays her eggs in a saucer-shaped hollow on the ground beneath some cover such as a tuft of grass, small bush or dry debris. She is Polyandrous and after laying 3-4 eggs and she moves on, makes her booming call day or night, advertising for another male to mate with and lay more eggs. She can do this 3 or 4 times in a breeding season. Dad is the stay-at-home parent, he incubates and feeds the young chicks.

We don’t have sand dunes in central Victoria, but I have seen Painted Button-quail on dry ridges and on the edge of forest in Campbells Creek and in the wider area of Castlemaine, Newstead and Guildford. Last spring I stopped the car quickly, as a Dad escorted his 3 tiny golf ball size fuzzy chicks walking across Rowley Park Road, it was the cutest thing you ever saw.

Painted Button-quail doing what it does best, hiding and camouflaging into leaf litter. Photo by Damian Kelly


To listen to the call of the Painted Button-quail – click here

Jane Rusden
Damian Kelly


















One response to “Bird of the month: Painted Button-quail”

  1. Smiley Willaims says:

    Thanks Jane. I have never seen one, but I will keep my eye more open.

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