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Buff-breasted Buttonquail

Turnix olivii

The buff-breasted buttonquail, known scientifically as Turnix olivii, stands as the largest member of its genus and perhaps the most elusive. This species, endemic to the Cape York Peninsula in Queensland, Australia, exhibits a robust build, measuring between 18 to 23 centimeters in length and tipping the scales at over 110 grams. Its plumage is characterized by a warm, buff-colored breast and a chestnut back, while the head is adorned with chestnut markings against a plain gray backdrop. Both the wings and tail of this bird are notably short.

Identification Tips

When attempting to distinguish the buff-breasted buttonquail from its congeners, one should note its larger size and longer legs. Unlike the all-dark quail, this species boasts a distinctive warm buff breast. It is not to be confused with the painted buttonquail, which is heavily mottled with bold white spots and lacks the buff coloration. The chestnut-backed buttonquail, although similar in appearance, does not share its habitat with the buff-breasted buttonquail.

Habitat

The buff-breasted buttonquail shows a preference for lowland, subcoastal grasslands and woodlands, thriving at elevations up to 400 meters. It is often associated with grassy woods dominated by Melaleuca, Acacia, Alphitonia, and Tristania species. This bird can adapt to varying degrees of scrub cover, from dense thickets to sparse, rocky terrains.

Distribution

This species is confined to the Cape York Peninsula, where it has been observed in the Iron and McIlwraith Ranges, as well as the Morehead River area.

Behaviour

The buff-breasted buttonquail is a master of camouflage, seldom seen due to its limited range and unobtrusive nature. It prefers to walk or run, blending seamlessly with its surroundings and rarely taking to the air unless absolutely necessary. These birds are generally sedentary, though they may exhibit local movements in response to seasonal changes in their habitat.

Song & Calls

The female's advertising call is a low, resonant "ooom-oom-oom," which can be repeated up to 20 times, starting almost inaudibly and crescendoing to a far-reaching pitch. Males reply with a deep, rapid "chu-chu-chu" whistle. Other vocalizations include a "gug-gug-gug," a soft "chirp-chirp-chirp," and a loud "kwaare-kwaare" when alarmed.

Breeding

Solitary in their breeding habits, the buff-breasted buttonquail nests from January to March. Their nests are artfully concealed domes of grass with a side entrance, lined with grasses and leaves. Clutches typically consist of two to four speckled eggs, with the male believed to undertake all incubation and chick-rearing duties. The chicks are precocial and leave the nest shortly after hatching.

Diet and Feeding

While specific dietary habits are not well-documented, it is likely that the buff-breasted buttonquail consumes a diet similar to other buttonquails, consisting of insects and seeds, supplemented with sand to aid digestion.

Conservation status

The buff-breasted buttonquail is classified as Critically Endangered, with an estimated population of merely 500 individuals. Its historical range, once spanning 2,070 square kilometers, has been significantly reduced, largely due to cattle overgrazing, unsuitable fire regimes, and habitat clearance for human development.

Similar Species

The buff-breasted buttonquail is larger and longer-legged than the painted and brown quails, with which it coexists. It is most similar to the chestnut-backed buttonquail, which, however, does not share its range.

Important Bird Areas

BirdLife International has identified the Iron and McIlwraith Ranges, along with the Morehead River, as Important Bird Areas crucial for the conservation of the buff-breasted buttonquail.

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More Buttonquail

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

Barred Buttonquail

Turnix suscitator
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