#ThreatenedSpecies of the Week: Painted Button-quail

Turnix varius scintillans, or the Painted Button-quail (Houtman Abrolhos)  is a striking bird.

The species has grey or brownish upperparts and is heavily marked with a combination of white, reddish-brown and black spots, blotches, bars and streaks, and a large reddish-brown patch on each shoulder.

Its underparts consist of a white chin and throat, a grey breast with buff spots, a white, buff-white or cream belly, and a buff to reddish-buff undertail. It has reddish-orange or (when breeding) red irides, a grey or brownish-grey bill, and yellow legs and feet.

painted button quail
Painted Button Quail. Picture: Birdlife Australia

The sexes are similar in appearance, but adult females are substantially brighter and somewhat larger than adult males. The Painted Button-quail has a length of 14–17 cm and a mass of 52–82 g.

It is listed as Vulnerable under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) and Endangered under the Wildlife Conservation Act 1950.

The main potential threats to the Painted Button-quail throughout its range are thought to be fire and the future introduction of a predator or competitor to any of the islands inhabited by the subspecies.

The Painted Button-quail is confined to five small locations: North Island, East Wallabi Island, West Wallabi Island, Seagull Island and Pigeon Island in the Houtman Abrolhos.

It can occur in all available habitats in the Houtman Abrolhos, except for limestone pavements associated with old guano mining facilities.

It is most common in open Spinifex longifolius grassland on low sand dunes, and in open shrubland, composed of Atriplex cinerea and Halosarcia halocnemoides, on flats. It also occurs in Frankenia pauciflora shrubland and dense thickets of Nitraria, and occasionally forages in the sub-littoral zone and around fishing camps.

At present none of the islands that are occupied by the Painted Button-quail have any larger introduced predators such as rats or cats.

The introduction of a large predator to any of the occupied islands could have a catastrophic effect on the Painted Button-quail population. The Painted Button-quail  on North Island is currently thought to be threatened by habitat degradation caused by the introduced Tammar Wallaby.

Grazing and trampling by the now abundant wallaby population has eliminated much of the ground litter and dense low vegetation that would otherwise be utilised by the Painted Button-quail.

Information Source: Government of Australia, Department of Environment and Department of Parks and Wildlife Western Australia.


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