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Black-breasted Buttonquail

Turnix melanogaster

The black-breasted buttonquail, Turnix melanogaster, is a rare avian species endemic to eastern Australia. This plump, quail-shaped bird, measuring 17–19 cm in length, boasts a marbled black, rufous, and pale brown plumage, adorned with white spots and stripes, and distinctive white eyes. The female, larger and more vividly colored than the male, features a striking black head and neck with fine white markings.

Identification Tips

Females can be identified by their black head and neck with a chestnut tinge on the nape and white spots forming a moustache and eyebrow-like pattern. Males have a whitish face and neck with black speckles, a brown-grey crown, and a nape with black and white bars and spots on the breast. Juveniles resemble adult males but have a blue-grey iris and duller brown-grey upperparts.

Habitat

The black-breasted buttonquail is typically found in dry rainforests and adjacent areas, including bottle tree scrub, lantana thickets, dune scrub, and mature hoop pine plantations with a closed canopy and developed undergrowth.

Distribution

This species ranges from Hervey Bay in central Queensland to the northeastern corner of New South Wales, inhabiting areas with annual rainfall between 770–1,200 mm.

Behaviour

The black-breasted buttonquail is a ground-dwelling bird that prefers to freeze or run rather than fly when startled. It is unable to perch in trees due to the absence of a hind toe.

Song & Calls

The female emits a low-pitched oom call, a sequence of 5–7 notes lasting 1.5–2.0 seconds each, which can be repeated multiple times. The male produces high staccato and clucking alarm or rallying calls, including an ak ak call when separated from its covey.

Breeding

In this species, the female mates with multiple males and leaves them to incubate the eggs. Breeding habits are not well documented, but the breeding season may vary with temperature. The nest is a shallow depression lined with leaves and moss, and the eggs are shiny grey-white or buff with dark splotches.

Diet and Feeding

The black-breasted buttonquail forages for invertebrates in thick leaf litter within vine forests and thickets. It creates plate-shaped feeding sites by scratching the ground in a circular pattern and pecking for invertebrates in the exposed soil.

Conservation status

The black-breasted buttonquail is classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List and under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Habitat loss and fragmentation, predation by feral animals, and human activities pose significant threats to its survival. Conservation efforts are underway to mitigate these threats and improve habitat conditions.

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More Buttonquail

A photo of a Barred Buttonquail (Turnix suscitator) , male

Barred Buttonquail

Turnix suscitator
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