Black-breasted buttonquail facts for kids
Quick facts for kidsBlack-breasted buttonquail
Hemipodius melanogaster Gould
The black-breasted buttonquail (Turnix melanogaster) is a rare buttonquail endemic to eastern Australia, where it is usually found in rainforest. Like other buttonquails, it is unrelated to the true quails. The black-breasted buttonquail is a plump quail-shaped bird of predominantly marbled black, rufous and pale brown, marked prominently with white spots and stripes, and white eyes. Like other buttonquails, the female is larger and more distinctively coloured than the male. Measuring up to 20 cm (8 in), it has a black face and chin, sprinkled with fine white markings. The smaller male measures up to 18 cm (7.5 in) and lacks the black markings. The black-breasted buttonquail is rated as near threatened on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)'s Red List of Endangered species.
The black-breasted buttonquail was originally described by ornithologist John Gould in 1837 as Hemipodius melanogaster, from specimens collected around Moreton Bay in Queensland. Its specific epithet is derived from the Ancient Greek terms melas "black", and gaster "belly". In 1840, English zoologist George Robert Gray established that the genus name Turnix, coined in 1790 by French naturalist Pierre Joseph Bonnaterre, had priority over Hemipodius, which had been published in 1815 by Coenraad Jacob Temminck. In his 1865 Handbook to the Birds of Australia, Gould used its current name Turnix melanogaster.
Along with other buttonquails, the black-breasted buttonquail was traditionally placed in the order Gruiformes, but more recent molecular analysis shows it belongs to an ancient lineage of shorebirds (Charadriiformes).
"Black-breasted buttonquail" has been designated the official name by the International Ornithologists' Union (IOC). "Black-fronted buttonquail" is an alternative vernacular name. Gould called it "black-breasted hemipode" initially, and then "black-breasted turnix", corresponding with its scientific name. The buttonquail species were generally known as "quail" (hence "black-breasted quail" or "black-fronted quail") until the RAOU promoted the current usage of "buttonquail" in 1978, which was then universally adopted.
The black-breasted buttonquail is a plump quail-shaped bird of predominantly marbled black, rufous and pale brown, marked prominently with white spots and stripes, and white eyes. Like other buttonquails, the female is larger and more distinctively coloured than the male. Measuring up to 20 cm (8 in), it has a black face and chin, sprinkled with fine white markings. The smaller male measures up to 19 cm (7.5 in) and lacks the black markings. The black markings and large size of the female and the dark markings and whitish face of the male distinguish the species from the painted buttonquail (Turnix varius).
The female makes a low-pitched oom call. The male utters an ak ak call when separated from others in its covey.
The globular pellets of the black-breasted buttonquail have a distinctive hook at the end, in contrast to those of the co-occurring painted buttonquail, which are more cylindrical and gently curved.
Distribution and habitat
The black-breasted buttonquail is found from Hervey Bay in central Queensland south to the northeastern corner of New South Wales, generally in areas receiving 770–1200 mm (30–48 in) rainfall annually. It is rare and its habitat is fragmented. It is found in dry rainforest and nearby areas, as well as bottle tree (Brachychiton rupestris) scrub, lantana thickets. and mature hoop pine (Araucaria cunninghamii) plantations with a closed canopy and developed undergrowth. It is found in Palmgrove National Park, which has consequently been identified by BirdLife International as an Important Bird Area for the species.
The black-breasted buttonquail was once populous on Inskip Point near Fraser Island, with the area a destination for birdwatchers wanting to see this species. However, there were fears that they had suffered predation. Mike West, former president of Birds Queensland, blamed dingoes and wild dogs for wiping out the population. However, as of early 2014, Queensland Parks and Wildlife staff believe that at least two pairs are still present at Inskip Point.
The breeding habits of the species are not well known as both the birds and their nests are difficult to find and monitor. The usual sex roles are reversed in the buttonquail genus (Turnix), as the larger and more brightly-coloured female mates with multiple male partners and leaves them to incubate the eggs. For most of the year, the female black-breasted buttonquail forms a covey with one to three males. During breeding season, the female establishes a territory and utters drumming calls as courtship. The males often form small territories within the female's.
The nest is a shallow depression measuring 10 cm by 6 cm scraped out of the leaf litter and ground, lined with leaves, moss and dried vegetation. It is often sited between the buttress roots of a plant, or in a crevice or sheltered by a tree root, and within or near undergrowth vegetation such as lantana (Lantana camara), bracken (Pteridium esculentum) or prickly rasp fern (Doodia aspera). It is not known which sex builds the nest.
Three or four shiny grey-white or buff eggs splotched with dark brown-black and lavender are laid measuring 28 mm x 23 mm. Incubation lasts 18 to 21 days.
The black-breasted buttonquail forages on the ground in large areas of thick leaf litter in vine forest, and thickets of vines or lantana. Leaves fall on these areas year-round. A covey of birds scrapes out up to 100 plate-shaped shallow feeding sites, though between 10 and 40 is more usual. The buttonquail makes these by scratching at the ground with alternate legs in a circular pattern moving either clockwise or anticlockwise, creating the 20 cm depression and pecking for invertebrates in the exposed ground. Remains of prey recovered from pellets include the exoskeletons of ants, beetles (including weevils), spiders such as jumping spiders and the brown trapdoor spider (Euoplos variabilis), centipedes, millipedes, and snails such as Nitor pudibunda. The remains of soft-bodied invertebrates are not discernible in pellets.
The species was classified as vulnerable until 2012 when it relisted as near threatened; most of the black-breasted buttonquail's original habitat has been cleared and the remaining populations are fragmented. The population has been estimated at as little as 2500 breeding birds and declining, with no single population containing more than 250 individuals. The dry rainforest it lives in, although often adjacent to wet rainforest, is often located outside of national parks and protected areas and is thus at risk from further clearance for agriculture or development. Since European settlement, 90% of its habitat has been lost and much of what is left is fragmented. Furthermore, fieldwork in southeast Queensland showed that it did not forage in remnants under 7 hectares in area.
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