Coturnix chinensisblue-breasted quail or king quail(Also: blue-breasted quail;king quail)

Geographic Range

Painted quail and their subspecies are found in India, Sri Lanka, southeast China, Taiwan, Hainan Island, southeast Asia (including Thailand, Myanmar, and Viet Nam), the Phillipines, Nicobar Islands, Sumatra (Butler, 1897; Delacour, 1947; Harper, 1986; Hayes, 1992), Borneo and Sarawak (Smythies, 1981), Java, the Celebes, Lombok, Sumba, Flores, Timor Islands, New Guinea, north to southeastern Australia (Butler, 1897; Delacour, 1947; Harper, 1986; Hayes, 1992), and as far east as Madagascar. They have been introduced into Mauritius and Reunion (Rutgers and Norris, 1970) as well as Guam (Mayr, 1945). (Butler, 1897; Delacour, 1947; Harper, 1986; Hayes, 1992; Mayr, 1945; Rutgers and Norris, 1970; Smythies, 1981)


Painted quail are found in moist regions such as those in wetlands of rank grass (Finn, 1911; Delacour and Mayr, 1946) and rice paddy fields in Lower Myanmar and the Bengal region of India (Finn, 1911) and Borneo (Smythies, 1981). In addition, they have been found up to 1220 m in the highlands of Borneo (Smythies, 1981). They nest on the ground in grasslands that may be bordered by marshes or other wetlands (Finn, 1911). (Delacour and Mayr, 1946; Finn, 1911; Smythies, 1981)

  • Range elevation
    1200 (high) m
    3937.01 (high) ft

Physical Description

These quail are 12.5 cm (Harper, 1986) to 14 cm long (Alderton, 1992) and they weigh 28 to 40 g. The female is larger than the male (Harper, 1986). Wing length is 65 to 78 mm for males and 66 to 67 mm for females. For males, tail length is approximately 25 mm (Johnsgard, 1988). Tail length for females is slightly longer (Pappas, pers. obs.).

The natural color of the male is dark brown with a slate blue-gray breast, dark rust-colored to chestnut-red belly, black throat patch surrounded by a white band and bordered by a black stripe, and black eye stripe (Finn, 1911; Harrison, 1973b). There may be lighter shades of brown evident throughout or within the wing feathers in a mottled pattern. The female does not retain the blue-gray breast, dark rust to chestnut-red belly, or the black markings of the male. She has an overall brown color with rust-brown abdomen and breast. Both males and females have black beaks, yellow to orange-colored legs and feet, and a short, dark brown tail (Finn, 1911; Hachisuka, 1931; Delacour and Mayr, 1946; Harrison, 1965; Dewar, 1979).

In captivity, many color variations have been bred. The most widely known is the silver phase. Other colors include, white (non-albino), varying brown tones, and mottled silver-gray (Hayes, 1992). (Alderton, 1992; Delacour and Mayr, 1946; Dewar, 1979; Finn, 1911; Hachisuka, 1931; Harper, 1986; Harrison, 1965; Harrison, 1973b; Hayes, 1992; Johnsgard, 1988; Pappas, 1996)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • Range mass
    28 to 40 g
    0.99 to 1.41 oz
  • Range length
    12.5 to 14 cm
    4.92 to 5.51 in


We do not have information on the mating system of this species at this time.

The rainy season dictates the breeding season with respect to geographic location for these quail and their subspecies (Johnsgard, 1988).

They nest on the ground in hollows that are lined with grass. Females are prolific egg-layers. Usually, they lay between 6 and 14 (to as many as 21) eggs per clutch. The eggs are approximately 24.5 mm by 19 mm (Harrison, 1973a; Johnsgard, 1988) and weigh around 5 g (Johnsgard, 1988). They are olive green to brown in color with dark brown spots/blotches all over. They are rather large considering the size of the female. Females have a hard time trying to keep the eggs warm. Males do not aid in brooding or rearing the chicks (Harrison, 1973a). Incubation period is from 16 (Alderton, 1992) to 19 days (Robbins, 1973).

Newly hatched chicks are the size of bumble bees, and they are usually brown in color. In captivity, adults of other color phases, such as white, produce yellow-colored chicks. These quail are precocial in nature. After one month, young are mature and will begin mating and laying. At only a couple of weeks old, the chicks begin to crow. (Alderton, 1992; Harrison, 1973a; Johnsgard, 1988; Robbins, 1979)

  • Breeding season
    Breeding season is dictated by the rainy season.
  • Range eggs per season
    6 to 21
  • Average eggs per season
    6 to 14
  • Range time to hatching
    16 to 19 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 months

Males do not aid in brooding or rearing the precocial chicks (Harrison, 1973a). The incubation period is from 16 (Alderton, 1992) to 19 days (Robbins, 1973).

Painted quail engage in egg-rolling. They use their beaks to roll eggs while walking backward. They collect eggs for the nest that have been laid in other places, or move eggs to a safe place if the nest-site becomes unsuitable (Harrison et al., 1965). (Alderton, 1992; Harrison, 1973a; Harrison, et al., 1965; Robbins, 1979)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • precocial
  • pre-fertilization
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • protecting
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female


We do not have information on the lifespan of this species at this time.


Painted quail may be found in pairs, and at other times, in coveys. When in close contact, males are aggressive toward each other.

These quail walk with a crouched posture and rapid nodding movements of their heads. When they sense a threat, they will crouch down to touch the ground and utter a high-pitched, rapid peeping call. The chestnut-red under the tail is visible. This is known as the alarm crouch and call. When they want to be the aggressor, the quail will crouch slightly, with head held low and beak pointing a bit upward. In this position, none of the chestnut-red colored feathers are visible (Harrison, 1965).

Painted quail stay clean by dust-bathing. They are non-perching birds that are infrequent flyers, moving about mostly on the ground (Seth-Smith, 1957; Alderton, 1992). They are more likely to be heard than seen and are difficult to flush from cover (Johnsgard, 1988). (Alderton, 1992; Harrison, 1965; Johnsgard, 1988; Seth-Smith, 1957)

Home Range

We do not have information on the home range for this species at this time.

Communication and Perception

These quail communicate with many calls between the sexes. One of the most interesting is the tidbitting call whereby the male picks up, for example, a small worm, then offers it to the female, and simultaneously utters short, monotone "peeps." The female will graciously take this tidbit from his beak to eat (Harrison, 1965). On rare occasions, females will perform this tidbitting call for the male (Pappas, 1996).

The mating call occurs when the male displays to the female. He will puff his chest, lower his wings, and dart about in front of a female he wishes to court. His chestnut-red breast feathers are visible (Harrision, 1965). He may make low, soft, clucking sounds (Pappas, pers. obs.).

Both males and females produce loud single-note crowing calls when not in view of each other. They both utter a three-note or four-note crow. The quail will stand upright, beak stretching upward, with a descending-tone sounding like "quee-kee-kee" (Harrison, 1965), "pip-it-kan" or "pip, pit-it-kan" with the last note short in duration and descending in pitch (Smythies, 1981). Only males will produce low, bellowing calls as a prelude to a full-fledged three-note or four-note crow. The quail will crouch, fluff his feathers, lift his wings slightly, and utter a low, hoarse "koraah" while his neck and throat are distended (Harrison, 1965). This call occurs when the female is incubating eggs and the male is frequenting sites at the extent of his territory (Pappas, pers. obs.). The hen and chicks utter faint peeping sounds to each other to keep in contact at all times. (Harrison, 1965; Pappas, 1996; Smythies, 1981)

Food Habits

Painted quail mostly eat a variety of grass seeds, including red, white and yellow millet, maw, niger, and rape seeds. They will also eat fresh greens and other vegetation. In limited amounts, they will also consume small worms and insects, including termites, (Yealland, 1962; Smythies, 1981; Harper, 1986). When living in captivity, females require additional calcium in the form of ground up oyster shell or cuttlefish mantle (Pappas, 1996). (Pappas, 1996; Smythies, 1981; Yealland, 1962)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial worms
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit


We do not have information on predation for this species at this time.

Ecosystem Roles

Painted quail have an impact on the vegetation and prey they eay.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

In aviculture, these quail are available for study as well as companionship to the many bird enthusiasts around the world. Documentation on these quail in their natural habitat is scarce, since few people have seen them in the wild. Studies on captive-bred birds have provided information on their food habits, behavior, reproduction, and other aspects of their life history (Hayes, 1992).

These quail provide food for many peoples, including those from the Far East. (Hayes, 1992)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food
  • research and education

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse affects of painted quail on humans.

Conservation Status

This species of quail is not listed by either CITES or the IUCN.

Other Comments

In the western world, painted quail were first imported into England in 1870. Credit for the first captive-born painted quail is given to E.G.B. Meade-Waldo in 1898 (Meade-Waldo, 1898). The first domestication and breeding by a person from the United States may have involved importation of these birds from Guam in the late 1800's to early 1900's (Mayr, 1945). However, earlier records of captive-born painted quail include those from the Amsterdam Zoo in 1842 and in France in 1873 (Hopkinson, 1926).

Common name: Chinese painted quail are also known as blue-breasted quail, blue quail, king quail (Finn, 1911), and island painted quail (McGregor, 1909). Sometimes the names refer to subspecies or races rather than the nominate.

Taxonomy: In aviculture, these birds are known as button quail, although this is a misnomer. The true button quail are members of the order Gruiformes, family Turnicidae, and genus Turnix. They are morphologically and behaviorally different from Chinese painted quail, although their geographic ranges overlap.

A number of subspecies are recognized. They include Coturnix chinensis chinensis, C. c. trinkutensis, C. c. palmeri, C. c. lineata, C. c. minima, C. c. lineatula, C. c. lepida, C. c. novaeguinea, C. c. papuensis, C. c. colletti, and C. c. australis (Johnsgard, 1988).

Additional information: Smallest of the old world quails. Legend has it that these little quails were used as hand warmers by Chinese emperors circa 3000 B.C. They would retreat to a cuff or part of the emperor's sleeve when not needed. (Finn, 1911; Hopkinson, 1926; Johnsgard, 1988; Mayr, 1945; McGregor, 1909; Meade-Waldo, 1898)


Alaine Camfield (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Janice Pappas (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

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living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map


uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


union of egg and spermatozoan


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born


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Delacour, J., E. Mayr. 1946. Birds of the Philippines. New York: The Macmillan Co.

Dewar, D. 1979. Common Birds of India. New Delhi: N. B. D. Publishers.

Finn, F. 1911. Game Birds of India and Asia. Calcutta: Thacker, Spink & Co.

Hachisuka, M. 1931. The Birds of the Philippine Islands. London: H.F. & G. Witherby.

Harper, D. 1986. Pet Birds for Home and Garden. London: Salamander Books Ltd.

Harrison, C. 1973b. Further notes on the behaviour of Painted Quail (Excalfactoria chinensis). Avicultural Magazine, 79(4): 136-139.

Harrison, C. 1965. Plumage pattern and behaviour in the Painted Quail. Avicultural Magazine, 71(6): 176-184.

Harrison, C. 1973a. Plumage pattern in the buff varieties of the House Sparrow and the Painted Quail. Avicultural Magazine, 79(3): 73-74.

Harrison, C. 1968. Some notes on the behaviour of nesting Painted Quail, and some further notes on their calls. Avicultural Magazine, 74(1): 7-10.

Harrison, C., R. Restall, J. Trollope. 1965. The egg-rolling behaviour of the Painted Quail. Avicultural Magazine, 71(4): 127-130.

Hayes, L. 1992. The Chinese Painted Quail (The Button Quail): Their Breeding and Care. Valley Center, CA: Hayes.

Hopkinson, E. 1926. Records of Birds Bred in Captivity. London: H.F. & G. Witherby.

Johnsgard, P. 1988. The Quail, Partridges, and Francolins of the World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kruijt, J. 1963. Notes on wing display in courtship of pheasants. Avicultural Magazine, 69(1): 11-20.

Mayr, E. 1945. Birds of the Southwest Pacific. New York: The Macmillan Company.

McGregor, R. 1909. A Manual of Philippine Birds, Part I: Galliformes to Eurylaemiformes. Manila: Department of the Interior, Bureau of Science.

Meade-Waldo, E. 1898. Breeding the Chinese Painted Quail (Excalfactoria chinensis). Avicultural Magazine, 5(49): 1-2.

Pappas, J. 1996. Some observations on the behaviour and care of the Chinese Painted Quail. Avicultural Magazine, 102(3): 103-105.

Robbins, G. 1979. Quail in captivity. Avicultural Magazine, 85(4): 216-223.

Rutgers, A., K. Norris. 1970. Encyclopedia of Aviculture, Vol. 1. London: Blandford Press.

Seth-Smith, D. 1957. Breeding the Painted Quail. Avicultural Magazine, 63(1): 21-22.

Smythies, B. 1981. The Birds of Borneo. Kuala Lumpur: The Malayan Nature Society.

The Game Bird & Waterfowl Pages, 1997. "Chinese Painted (Button) Quail, Coturnix chinensis" (On-line). Accessed November 25, 2003 at

Yealland, J. 1962. The Painted Quail. Avicultural Magazine, 68(1): 24-26.