Button Quail Care Sheet

Maria Zayas, DVM
By Maria Zayas, DVM on Nov. 27, 2023
button quail sitting on rock outside

In This Article

Species Overview

Button Quail Species Overview

Button quails, also known as Chinese painted quails, are small, ground-dwelling birds found in grasslands throughout Asia, Africa, Europe, and Australia. 

Button quails resemble true quails in appearance, but they are not related to them genetically. True quails are part of the Phasianidae family (along with pheasants, chickens, and turkeys), while button quails are members of the Turnicidae family. 

Like true quails, button quails are unable to perch on sticks or branches due to the shape of their feet. They have only three front toes and lack a hind toe. 

Button quails can be tamed easily and communicate through relatively quiet sounds, including crowing, clicking, and chirping. 

Button quails are sexually dimorphic, meaning that male and female birds from the same species have noticeably different appearances.

Male button quails are more colorful than females. They have grayish-blue and rust-colored feathers on their bodies, with black and white stripes of feathers on their faces and necks. Female button quails are larger than males and have brown feathers all over their bodies. 

A male button quail will crow constantly if there aren’t any females present in the habitat. Because of this, it’s best to keep a small group of female button quails with a single male. 

Button Quail Characteristics 

Difficulty of Care 

Beginner 

Average Lifespan 

4+ years with proper care 

Average Adult Size 

4–5 inches long, from head to end of tail 

Diet 

Omnivorous 

Minimum Habitat Size 

8 cubic feet per bird (24” L x 24” W x 24” H) 

Button Quail Supply Checklist

To keep a button quail happy and healthy, pet parents should have these basic supplies on hand: 

  • Appropriately sized habitat (at least 24” L x 24” W x 24” H per bird) 

  • Bedding

  • High-quality game bird food 

  • Bowl for dust bathing 

  • Dust for bathing 

  • Oyster shell grit (digestible grit) 

  • Mineral grit (indigestible grit) 

  • Multivitamin 

  • Treats 

  • Food and water dishes 

  • Ultraviolet (UV) light source 

  • Variety of toys 

  • Hideaway box 

Button Quail Habitat

Choosing the Right Enclosure 

Whether they’re kept indoors or outdoors, a button quail should be housed in a well-ventilated, rectangular habitat. Button quail are known to fly upward when frightened, so enclosures should be secured with a mesh top to avoid injury. The habitat’s floors should be solid, as mesh/wire floors can cause pressure sores to develop on quails’ feet.  

Enclosures must be large enough to provide about 8 cubic feet of space (24” L x 24” W x 24” H) for each adult button quail in the habitat. Outdoor habitats should be fully enclosed to prevent birds from escaping and to keep predators from entering the enclosure. 

Although button quail are considered “running birds” meaning that they will spend most of their time on the ground, habitats should still be large enough for birds to fly short distances. Always provide the largest habitat possible.

Setting Up Your Habitat 

Button quail are most comfortable at average household temperatures, no higher than 80 F. Pet parents should be cautious of temperature changes and house their button quail indoors when the weather is extremely cold or hot. Indoor habitats should be kept in a draft-free, well-lit area that is not accessible to other pets, including cats and dogs. Outdoor habitats must have a shaded area. 

Make sure that no habitat parts or toys are made with lead, zinc, lead-based paints, galvanized metal, or other potentially toxic materials. These materials can cause serious medical issues if ingested. 

Habitat Mates 

Male button quails should not be housed together; they are territorial and will fight. A small group of female button quails can be kept in the same enclosure with a single male, but keep in mind that they will breed. 

If more than one button quail is kept in the same habitat, the enclosure’s size must be increased accordingly. Remember: each button quail needs at least 8 cubic feet of space (24” L x 24” W x 24” H) in their enclosure.  

New birds must be introduced to each other slowly, in neutral territory, and under close supervision to ensure that they are compatible. Pet parents should monitor their birds for aggressive behavior and separate them if they fight. Never keep different species of animals in the same habitat.   

Bedding 

Line the bottom of a button quail’s habitat for warmth and nesting. Paper-based bedding, pine shavings, grass hay, and organic soil are all suitable materials for a quail’s enclosure. In cooler temperatures, increase the amount of bedding in your quails’ outdoor habitat to ensure the birds can stay warm. 

Avoid cedar-based bedding products; they have aromatic oils that can irritate quails’ sensitive respiratory tracts and put them at greater risk for infection. 

Lighting 

Daily exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light allows button quail to produce vitamin D in their skin so they can absorb dietary calcium for healthy egg-laying. Quail should get natural UV exposure by spending time outside in an escape-proof, predator-proof, outdoor run whenever weather permits.  

In cold weather, when quail cannot be housed outside, you can shine a full-spectrum UV light designed for birds in your button quails’ indoor habitat for at least ten to twelve hours each day. Replace lights after six months of use, as their potency wanes over time.

Décor & Accessories 

Hiding places and cover: A button quail’s habitat should have several hiding places for privacy. Pet parents can use commercially sold hideouts, upside-down cardboard boxes, or plastic flowerpots with cutouts for doors. Each button quail in a habitat should have at least one hiding area. 

If choosing to make a DIY hideout, ensure there are no rough edges that could injure a bird. 

Food and water dishes: Button quail need fresh food and water every day. Food and water dishes should be placed 1–2 inches off the habitat’s floor to prevent contamination from their droppings.  

Wash dishes with soap and rinse thoroughly each day to prevent bacterial growth. 

Non-toxic plants: Adding non-toxic potted plants to a button quail’s habitat can enrich their environment and provide them with some protective cover for extra privacy. 

Artificial plants can be used for indoor enclosures as long as quail don’t chew on them. If they do, remove the plants from the enclosure immediately. 

Toys: Provide your button quail with foraging toys to encourage mental stimulation and physical activity. Without enough entertainment, birds can become bored and develop harmful habits, like feather plucking. 

Button Quail Cleaning and Maintenance

A button quail’s habitat needs to be cleaned and disinfected regularly. Pet parents should spot-clean their button quails’ habitat daily, removing any soiled material and discarded food. Water and food bowls must be washed daily. Bedding and habitat liners should be replaced at least once a week (or more often if more than one button quail lives in the same habitat). 

Outdoor habitats with soil floors should have the top few inches of soil removed every few months to reduce the number of parasites in the environment. This way, quail will be less likely to get infected or reinfected with parasites by consuming insects in the soil that have ingested parasite eggs passed through the quails’ stool. 

Pet parents should only use cleaning agents formulated for pets when cleaning their button quail’s indoor habitat. This is because birds’ respiratory systems are sensitive to aerosolized fumes.  

To clean a button quail’s indoor habitat, take these steps: 

  1. Move the button quail to a secure environment (such as another habitat or travel cage) in a separate air space. Remove any old bedding and accessories from the habitat. 

  1. Use a bird habitat cleaner or 3% bleach solution to wash the habitat and any accessories.  

  1. Rinse the habitat and accessories thoroughly with water, making sure to remove any trace amounts or residual smells left by the cleaning agent or bleach solution.  

  1. Allow the habitat and its contents to dry completely before placing new bedding and clean accessories back into the habitat. 

  1. Return the bird to the clean habitat. 

 Dishes and toys should be replaced when worn or damaged, and pet parents can swap old toys with new ones regularly to prevent boredom. 

Button Quail Diet and Nutrition

Quails need a varied diet consisting of high-quality pelleted food, supplemented with fruits, vegetables, indigestible grit, soluble grit, and live food sources. Button quails should also always have access to fresh, clean water.  
 
When fed a predominantly pelleted diet with supplemental calcium (digestible grit), quail generally do not need an additional vitamin supplement in their diet. 

A nutritionally complete and balanced game bird crumble should make up at least 60–70% of a button quail’s diet. A high-quality, fresh food diet should include:

Fresh fruits and vegetables offered in small quantities may include:

  • Berries

  • Grapes

  • Apples

  • Prickly pears

Indigestible grit; a supplement designed to help birds break down and digest food in their stomach. 

Birds housed in an outdoor habitat typically ingest small pebbles on the ground and therefore do not need insoluble grit added to their diet.  

Overfeeding grit can lead to nutritional deficiencies and gastrointestinal obstruction. Grit should be offered in small amounts in a shallow bowl that’s wide enough for a quail to sit in. 

Live food, such as mealworms, crickets, and fly larvae, may be fed as an occasional treat. Mealworms are high in fat and can lead to unhealthy weight gain when fed in excess. 

Female button quails should be offered small amounts of soluble (digestible) grit made of crushed oyster shells in a small, shallow bowl during egg-laying periods. Soluble grit is a calcium supplement that helps promote healthy egg production. 

Fresh, clean water should be constantly available and changed daily. 

Do not allow button quails to ingest avocados, fruit seeds or pits, chocolate, caffeine, or alcohol, as they are toxic and can cause death or serious illness. Pet parents are advised to discard any uneaten fruits and vegetables after 10 hours, as they may spoil and cause infection if eaten. 

Button Quail Grooming and Care

Pet parents with birds should avoid using nonstick cookware and other appliances with a nonstick coating (such as Teflon™). Nonstick coatings have a polymer called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). When heated, PTFE releases colorless, odorless fumes than can kill pet birds if inhaled.  

Bathing: While they don’t need to be bathed in the traditional sense, button quails love to remove dirt, debris, and oil from their feathers by taking dust baths. Pet parents can add a small, shallow container of bird-safe bathing dust to their button quail’s habitat. 

Dust baths remove dirt/oil buildup and can kill small pests that might be trapped in a button quail’s feathers.  

Nail Care: Nails must be trimmed as needed, which can range from every few weeks to months. Quail that run outside on rough surfaces wear down their nails on their own and they may not need trimming. If they do, nails should be trimmed by a trained professional, avian veterinarian, or someone trained to trim birds’ nails to prevent injury. 

If bleeding occurs, a styptic powder can be used to stop the bleeding quickly. 

Button Quail Veterinary Care

Annual Care

Button quail should be seen by a veterinarian once annually. A transport carrier or cage should be used and pictures of their cage, diet, and supplies at home can be shown to the veterinarian as part of the exam. Be sure to obtain clear pictures of all labels, not just the products themselves. Covering the travel carrier can help with protection from the elements and fostering a safe environment for your quail.

Signs of a Healthy Button Quail

  • Social attitude with regular vocalizations

  • Clean, clear, bright eyes

  • Clean nostrils

  • Symmetrical, intact beak that closes appropriately

  • Intact, clean feathers

  • Clean, smooth feet

  • Full and equal range of motion of wings

  • Clean and dry vent/cloaca

  • Consistent droppings

When to Call a Vet

  • Eye discharge

  • Nasal discharge, one or both sides

  • Wheezing or sneezing

  • Rapid breathing

  • Overgrown beak or fractures to beak

  • Feather plucking, bleeding feathers, uneven feather growth

  • Constantly fluffed feathers

  • Foot sores or favoring a foot

  • Limping, unwillingness to use a limb or wing, or holding a wing abnormally

  • Moist feathers around cloaca or any discharge from cloaca

  • Runny, liquid, or abnormally colored droppings

  • Abnormal eggshells or laying pattern

  • Loss of appetite

  • Vomiting or regurgitating

  • Hiding

  • Not vocalizing

  • Head tilt

Common Illnesses in Button Quails

  • Feather picking, other anxiety or boredom-related behaviors

  • Skin parasites: mites and lice

  • Diarrhea

  • Yeast (candida)

  • Avian poxvirus

  • Overgrown beaks

  • Egg binding

  • Trauma

  • Heavy metal toxicities

  • Teflon toxicity

  • Cancer

Button Quail FAQs

Are button quail good pets?

Button quail can be great pets, but they take extra care to socialize so they’re comfortable with their pet parents.

What is the difference between a quail and a button quail?

Button quail are very small—smaller than other types of quail. They tend to be a bit quieter (though they’re still quite vocal!) and cleaner than other quail species, with less associated smell. Button quail are usually the best choice for a pet quail.

What are button quail used for?

Button quail are used as pets! They’re a bit too small for anything else but are prized for their suitability as house pets.

Can button quail live in a fish tank?

This is technically possible, but be sure to provide good ventilation, as aquariums trap ammonia air from droppings.

Do button quail lay eggs without a male?

Yes, they can. These eggs will not be fertilized or able to hatch and the eggs are generally considered too small for to be of use for consumption, but females will lay eggs regularly without a male present.

Featured Image: Wichyanan Limparungpatthanakij/iStock via Getty Images Plus


Maria Zayas, DVM

WRITTEN BY

Maria Zayas, DVM

Veterinarian

Dr. Zayas has practiced small animal and exotic medicine all over the United States and currently lives in Colorado with her 3 dogs, 1 cat,...


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