Breeding Button Quail

By Levin Tilghman

(originally published in "Finch Breeder" Magazine,
Vol. 4, no. 2; Summer/Fall 1999)
Bunny Nesting


These tiny quail, also called Chinese Painted Quail, are often kept by finch fanciers. Breeding them can be frustrating as they have the habit of producing large numbers of eggs without ever making any attempt to incubate them. Artificial brooding and incubation is often the resort taken by those desiring to have young. Button Quail chicks are harder to rear than Bobwhites and Coturnix quail because of their very small size and the strong desire of the chicks to be brooded by another bird.

I had often read that Button Quail will only rear their own young in a large planted aviary, where they can hide their nest. Yet my first success took place in a cardboard box only 24" square! The box was prepared as follows: I added 3 inches of sterilized potting soil, followed by a couple of handfuls of pine shavings for added absorbency. A screen is used to cover the box. The nest is located in a back corner of the box, where the light levels are the lowest.

Most hens will make a shallow depression in the soil, but some will build a large nest out of dried grasses. In most cases it is best to remove the male once incubation commences. But I did have one male who actually assisted the hen in the care and rearing of the chicks. The nest was very well concealed and I didn't even realize that the hen had been incubating until the eggs began to hatch. The incubation period is only 16 days. Some hens will lead the first 3-4 chicks away from the nest and abandon the rest of the clutch. If you find the eggs in time, you can place them in an incubator until they hatch. Then the chicks can be returned to their mother. Rearing food is simple. I use finely ground gamebird starter or commercial eggfood as the standard diet, supplemented by small mealworms and chopped greens. Care must be taken to prevent the tiny chicks from falling into deep water containers and drowning. Until they are larger I offer them water in a jar top filled with marbles. The sight of a Button Quail family is truly fascinating and once you have them raised naturally you will not want to use incubators again.