Natural History

All About Button Quail: Excalfactoria  chinensis,
(Chinese Blue Breasted Quail)
When is a Button Quail not really a Button Quail?

Here’s the scoop.

We have spent over a decade researching the Natural History of “Button Quail” through such sources as the University of China at Beijing, and the works of early Ornithologists.

“Button Quail” are actually Chinese Blue Breasted Quail (Excalfactoria chinensis.)  They are native to a few provinces  in S.E. China, primarily Fukein, Kwangsi, S.E. Yunnan, and Hainan, where they inhabit the the sub-tropical forests,  grasslands and shrubby areas. They are generally found near a source of water, such as lakes, streams and rice fields, between sea level and 4,000 feet in elevation.

In the wild they feed on various types of grass seed, which make up the bulk of their diet.  They also consume small insects and larvae.  They are terrestrial  birds  which means they spend all their time on the ground and only take to short bursts of flight when frightened.  They never perch, not even at night.

These little quail first became popular in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s when European tourists visiting China noticed them in bamboo cages handing in  gardens near the entrances of Chinese homes.  When the tourists inquired about the strange little birds, they were told that Chinese Blue Breasted Quail brought good fortune to those who protected them and cared for them.  With their tiny size, endearing personalities and the promise of good fortune, many tourists bought them and took them home to put in their aviaries.

During World War II American soldiers saw them in the European homes and reported they were “cute as a Button and about the size of their uniform coat buttons when first hatched.”  It was then that the quail along with its new nickname were introduced to America.

The nickname “Button Quail” soon caught on and spread throughout the world,  but there was a problem.  There is a true species of birds with the nomenclature “Button Quail,” that make up 15 species of the order Guriformes, family Turnicade and genius Turnix.  True Button Quail are native to many parts of the world including Africa, Asia, India, Sri Lanka and Australia.   To further complicate the issue, True Button Quail, are not quail at all.

The little Chinese Blue Breasted Quail are easily distinguished from True Button Quail by looking at their toes.  True Button Quail are hemipodes (Greek word meaning half foot.)  They have only three toes, all of which   point forward, they completely lack a hind toe, whereas Chinese Blue Breasted Quail have four toes, three that point forward and a hind toe that faces backward.