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Button Quail

Button Quail Care Sheet

Coturnix chinensis
Developed with and approved by qualified veterinarians

Also known as Chinese painted quails, button quails are the smallest of the quails. Button quails resemble true quails (who are members of the pheasant family) but are not genetically related to them. Just as true quails are ground dwellers, with feet unable to perch on sticks or branches, so are button quails—they have only 3 toes and lack a hind toe, so they are unable to wrap their feet around a branch or perch.

Typical button quail appearance and behavior 

  • A male button quail kept without females may crow constantly
  • Male button quails are territorial and generally should not be kept together
  • Button quails communicate with a variety of relatively quiet sounds, including crowing, clicking and chirping
  • Button quails are typically ground dwellers who, when startled, fly straight up and may injure themselves if a roof or tree is in the way
  • Males and females are sexually dimorphic, which means the genders look different. Males are more colorful than females, with gray-blue feathers on their chests, rust-colored feathers on their abdomens and black and white bands of feathers on their faces and necks; females are larger than males, have brown feathers all over and don’t have the distinct facial markings that males have
  • Button quails can be tamed easily and are generally very quiet

Button quail characteristics

Care Difficulty Beginner
Average Life Span 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

Habitat 

Habitat size

The habitat should be rectangular and have at least 8 cubic feet of space (2 feet in each dimension) with solid flooring. It is best to provide the largest habitat possible; while button quails spend most of their time on the ground, a habitat large enough for them to fly short distances is strongly recommended.

Building your habitat

Button quails acclimate well to average household temperatures as long as they stay below 80°F; be cautious of extreme temperature changes. The habitat should be placed off the floor in a well-lit area away from drafts and inaccessible to other pets, such as curious cats and dogs. The habitat floor should be solid rather than wire mesh—mesh can cause foot sores, and quails’ feet are unable to grasp mesh. The habitat top should be enclosed to prevent predators from entering and birds from escaping. 

  • Bedding: For button quails housed indoors, commercially available paper-based bedding, pine shavings, grass hay or organic soil may be used as substrate; button quails housed outdoors in coops with pens or runs may have a dirt floor covered with similar substrates for warmth and nesting. Increase the amount of substrate in colder climates for added warmth
  • Décor: Provide several hiding places, such as upside-down cardboard boxes or plastic flowerpots with cutouts for doors, to help quails feel secure; nontoxic plants also provide quails with coverage and enrichment
  • Lighting: Birds need access to ultraviolet (UV) light so they can make vitamin D in their skin to dietary calcium. This can be accomplished either by housing quails outside, protected from predators, with access to direct sunlight, or by housing them inside with a full-spectrum UV bulb shining on them 10–12 hours a day; UV bulbs need to be replaced every six months, as their potency wanes
  • Toys: Provide foraging toys for important mental stimulation and to help prevent boredom

Cleaning your habitat

Clean and disinfect the habitat regularly. Spot clean the habitat daily and replace substrate or habitat liner weekly or more often, as needed. Habitats with soil floors should have the top few inches of soil removed every few months to lessen the soil’s parasite load. This way, quails don’t constantly reinfect themselves with parasites by eating insects in the soil that have ingested parasite eggs passed through the quails’ stool.

While cleaning, also keep these tips in mind:

  • Replace dishes and toys when worn or damaged; rotate new toys into the habitat regularly
  • Ensure no habitat parts or toys contain lead, zinc or other heavy metals, lead-based paints or galvanized parts, as these are toxic to birds and can cause serious medical issues if birds ingest them
  • Do not use any cleaning agents around your bird, as birds’ respiratory tracts are very sensitive to aerosols; any kind of fumes can harm or even kill a bird. When cleaning the habitat, remove birds to a separate air space

Feeding 

To feed your button quail a well-balanced diet:

  • High-quality, fresh game bird food should make up 60-70% of their diet, with smaller amounts of fresh vegetables and fruits and occasional treats of live food, such as mealworms, crickets and fly larvae
  • Small amounts of grit should also be offered in a shallow bowl large enough for the bird to sit in. Grit provides minerals and aids in food breakdown for easier digestion. Do not overfeed grit; it can obstruct quails’ intestinal tracts if they consume too much of it. Birds housed outdoors with access to small pebbles in the soil do not need added grit in their diets
  • Multivitamin powder should be sprinkled sparingly on insects before offering them
  • Female quails should be provided with crushed oyster shells as a calcium supplement during egg-laying; oyster shells can be mixed in with grit and offered in a bowl
  • Clean, fresh water changed daily
  • Do not feed birds avocados, fruit seeds or pits, chocolate, caffeine or alcohol, as these can be toxic to birds and can kill them if ingested; avoid sugary, salty and fatty treats

Things to remember when feeding your button quail:

  • Fresh food and water should always be available
  • Vegetables and fruits not eaten within a few hours should be discarded
  • Ensure water and food containers are placed 1–2 inches above the habitat floor to prevent contamination by bedding, feces or parasites
  • Remember, treats should not exceed 10% of your bird’s total food intake

Button quail care

  • Bird pet parents should avoid using nonstick cookware and other nonstick appliances; when heated, these can emit colorless, odorless fumes that can kill birds if inhaled
  • Button quails should be handled and interacted with daily to socialize them; they are often kept in pairs to bond with each other
  • Button quails love to roll around in sand or dirt to remove debris and excess oil from their feathers; provide a shallow bowl large enough for the bird to sit in and add commercially available poultry bathing dust or chinchilla dust for dust bathing
  • Nails should be trimmed by a qualified person to prevent injury to the bird

Habitat mates 

  • Female button quails may be kept together with a single male; males and females housed together will breed
  • Different types of birds should not be housed together
  • Male button quails are territorial and generally should not be housed together

Health 

Signs of a healthy button quail

  • Active, alert and sociable
  • Eats, drinks and passes stool throughout the day
  • Dry nares and bright, dry eyes
  • Smooth beak
  • Supple skin on legs and feet normal in appearance
  • Clean, dry vent
  • Smooth, well-groomed feathers

Red flags (if you notice any of these signs, contact your veterinarian)

  • Fluffed, plucked or soiled feathers
  • Laying on their side on the habitat floor
  • Wheezing, sneezing or coughing
  • Labored and/or open-mouth breathing
  • Runny, bloody or discolored stools
  • Favoring one foot when not sleeping
  • Wing droop
  • Ocular or nasal discharge
  • Red or swollen eyes
  • Loss of appetite
  • Passing thin-shelled or shell-less eggs
  • Straining to pass eggs or stool

Common button quail health issues

Health Issue Symptoms or Causes Suggested Action
Health Issue Diarrhea Symptoms or Causes Fecal portion of stool not formed; multiple causes, from change in diet to bacterial or viral infection to gastrointestinal parasites Suggested Action Consult your veterinarian, isolate sick bird, clean habitat and ensure correct diet
Health Issue Lice or feather mites Symptoms or Causes Restlessness, scratching, feather picking, decreased appetite Suggested Action Consult your veterinarian and clean habitat
Health Issue Avian pox virus Symptoms or Causes Lesions in mouth, scabs on eyes and face Suggested Action Isolate bird, prevent insects (that transmit pox) from entering the habitat and consult your veterinarian
Health Issue Egg-binding Symptoms or Causes Straining to pass eggs, laying shell-less or thin-shelled eggs, bloody droppings, lethargy, decreased appetite, respiratory difficulty Suggested Action Contact your veterinarian immediately

FAQs 

  • How long do button quails live? Button quails can live four or more years with proper care and nutrition.
  • What do button quails eat? High-quality, fresh game bird food should make up 60–70% of your button quails’ diet, with smaller amounts of fresh vegetables and fruits, as well as occasional treats of live food, such as mealworms, crickets and fly larvae 
  • How big are button quails? From head to tail, button quails are 4–5” long.
  • When do button quails start laying eggs? Button quails start laying eggs at 8 weeks of age.
  • What fruit do button quails eat? Button quails can eat small amounts of several fruits, including berries, grapes, apples and prickly pears. Never feed quails avocados, which are toxic to birds.

Additional care sheets

Notes and resources

Ask a Pet Care Center associate about Petco's selection of products available for the care and happiness of your new pet. All products carry a 100% money-back guarantee.

Because all button quails are potential carriers of infectious diseases, such as Salmonella bacteria, always wash your hands before and after handling your button quail and/or habitat contents to help prevent the potential spread of diseases. 

Pregnant women, children under the age of 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should contact their physicians before purchasing and/or caring for a button quail and should consider having a pet other than a button quail.

Go to the Centers for Disease Control at cdc.gov/healthypets for more information about button quail and disease.

Note: The information in this care sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If you need additional information, please contact your veterinarian.