Black-breasted Button-quail Turnix melanogaster - critically endangered species listing

NSW Scientific Committee - final determination

The Scientific Committee, established by the Threatened Species Conservation Act, has made a Final Determination to list the Black-breasted Button-quail Turnix melanogaster (Gould, 1837) as a CRITICALLY ENDANGERED SPECIES in Part 1 of Schedule 1A of the Act, and as a consequence, to omit reference to the Black-breasted Button-quail Turnix melanogaster (Gould, 1837) from Part 1 of Schedule 1 (Endangered species) of the Act. Listing of Critically Endangered species is provided for by Part 2 of the Act.


The Scientific Committee has found that:


1. The Black-breasted Button-quail Turnix melanogaster (Gould, 1837) is a small (19 cm) quail-like bird. It is dumpy, almost tail-less, mottled and streaked in black, brown, grey and white, with short wings, short yellow legs, and distinctive white eyes. The female is black on the head, and spangled black and white on the foreparts; the male is mottled grey on head and foreparts. The similar Painted Button-quail is more reddish brown dorsally, particularly on the neck which is rusty, and has red eyes. Other button-quail in NSW are much smaller and redder. True quail are more streaked, and are either richer brown with red eyes (Brown Quail) or have a rusty throat above the black-streaked breast, and red eyes (male Stubble Quail). True quail have a small hind-toe, lacking in button-quail, which have only three forward-pointing toes.


2. The ground-dwelling Black-breasted Button-quail inhabits subtropical rainforest, other moist forest, dry rainforest (vine thicket) and grassy edges, with a closed canopy and deep litter layer (Marchant & Higgins 1993). It is restricted to coastal south-east Queensland (north to Fraser Island), and the Border Ranges and Big Scrub areas of extreme north-east NSW. Recent claims of records farther south (Smyth & Young 1996), near Dorrigo and in the Macleay River catchment, may be invalid (cf. Schodde 2007). There are believed to be 25 subpopulations of the button-quail (Garnett & Crowley 2000), of which only two are in NSW (western Border Ranges area and in the Tweed Range/Mt Warning/Nightcap Range). The NSW population of the Black-breasted Button-quail is contiguous with that in Queensland. There is possible dispersal and genetic interchange across the State border.


3. There were only 10 records, from six localities, in NSW in the two decades up to 2000 (Garnett & Crowley 2000). There were no records in the first national bird atlas (Blakers et al. 1984), and only one incidental record in the second national bird atlas (Barrett et al. 2003). There are few records since 1990: one bird in Mebbin State Forest in July 1995; a group of birds on the Nightcap Range in June 1999; one or two birds in the Big Scrub Flora Reserve in June 1999; and two birds in Nightcap National Park in September 2000 (NSW Field Ornithologists Club data). Extensive expert ornithological surveys in the Richmond Valley (Gosper 1986, 1992; Gosper & Holmes 2002) obtained no recent records of the species, and there have been no published sightings since 2000.


4. The species global population is estimated at c. 5000 mature individuals, of which a large majority occur in Queensland. However, this estimate was assigned a low level of confidence by Garnett and Crowley (2000). Although the button-quail is secretive and cryptic, the level of confidence in survey records (or lack thereof) is high because birdwatchers are numerous and very active in the species’ NSW range, as they are in Queensland where the species is regularly reported in small numbers (Qld Ornithological Society data). The paucity of recent records therefore suggests that the NSW population is very low.


5. There is little information on the button-quail’s past abundance, but it was always considered rare in NSW. The Queensland population is declining (Garnett & Crowley 2000), and this decrease is predicted to be particularly rapid in fragmented habitat due to intense predation, leading to local extinction in the absence of conservation measures (Smyth & Pavey 2001). Similar fragmentation pressures apply in NSW, particularly in relation to Hoop Pine plantation forestry (Lees & Smith 1999). Most other Australian button-quail are also threatened or declining (Garnett & Crowley 2000; Barrett et al. 2007).


6. The Black-breasted Button-quail’s population and habitat are severely fragmented in NSW. For instance, the formerly extensive Big Scrub rainforest has been reduced to small, scattered remnants. The Tweed, Richmond and upper Clarence Valleys are extensively cleared for agriculture, leaving remaining rainforest reserves and state forests in the midst of unsuitable habitat.


7. The main threat has been clearing of subtropical and dry rainforests for agriculture and more recently for urbanisation, and degradation of rainforests by logging have posed/pose a threat to persistence of the species in NSW. Over 90% of the Black-breasted Button-quail’s habitat has been estimated as cleared (Garnett & Crowley 2000). The button-quail can use mature (though not young) Hoop Pine plantations with a Lantana understorey as a supplementary habitat, but is adversely affected when the pines are harvested (Lees & Smith 1999). Other threats include the loss of habitat connectivity due to clearing, grazing and disturbance of habitat by livestock and feral pigs. As a ground dwelling species the Black-breasted Button-quail is also prone to predation by foxes, dogs and cats. The dependence of the species on ground cover for shelter and food makes it adversely affected by high frequency fires that reduce the density of shrubs, ground layer species and the deep litter layer. Many weed species are invading rainforest remnants, and degrading the button-quail’s habitat. ‘High frequency fire resulting in the disruption of life cycle processes in plants and animals and loss of vegetation structure and composition’, ‘Predation by the European Red Fox Vulpes vulpes (Linnaeus, 1758)’, ‘Predation by the Feral Cat Felis catus (Linnaeus, 1758)’ and ‘Predation, habitat degradation, competition and disease transmission by Feral Pigs, Sus scrofa Linnaeus 1758’, are listed as Key Threatening Processes under the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995. This button-quail may be sought by egg collectors and aviculturists, but no documented evidence exists of attempted poaching; the species is well established in aviculture and breeds well in captivity.


8. The Black-breasted Button-quail is listed as Vulnerable in Queensland.


9. Black-breasted Button-quail Turnix melanogaster (Gould, 1837) is eligible to be listed as a Critically Endangered species as, in the opinion of the Scientific Committee, it is facing an extremely high risk of extinction in New South Wales in the immediate future as determined in accordance with the following criteria as prescribed by the Threatened Species Conservation Regulation 2002:


Clause 16

The estimated total number of mature individuals of the species is:

(a) very low,


(d) a projected or continuing decline is observed, estimated or inferred in:

(i) an index of abundance appropriate to the taxon

(ii) geographic distribution, habitat quality or diversity, or genetic diversity


Dr Richard Major


Scientific Committee

Proposed Gazettal date: 31/07/09

Exhibition period: 31/07/09 - 25/09/09


Barrett G, Silcocks A, Barry S, Cunningham R, Poulter R (2003) ‘The new atlas of Australian birds.’ (RAOU: Melbourne)


Barrett GW, Silcocks AF, Cunningham R, Oliver DL, Weston MA, Baker J (2007) Comparison of atlas data to determine the conservation status of bird species in New South Wales, with an emphasis on woodland-dependent species. Australian Zoologist 34, 37-77.


Blakers M, Davies SJJF, Reilly PN (1984) ‘The atlas of Australian birds.’ Melbourne University Press: Melbourne)


Garnett S, Crowley G (Eds) (2000) ‘The action plan for Australian birds 2000.’ (Environment Australia: Canberra)


Gosper DG (1986) Birds in the Richmond River district, NSW, 1973-1983. I. Distribution. Corella 10, 1-16.


Gosper DG (1992) Forest bird communities in the Richmond River district, New South Wales. Corella 16, 78-88.


Gosper DG, Holmes G (2002) Status of birds in the Richmond River district, New South Wales, 1973-2000. Corella 26, 89-105.


Lees N, Smith GC (1999) Use of mature Hoop plantation by the vulnerable Black-breasted Button-quail (Turnix melanogaster). Australian Forestry 62, 330-335.


Marchant S, Higgins PJ (Eds) (1993) ‘Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic birds,’ vol. 2. (Oxford University Press: Melbourne)


NSW Field Ornithologists Club (1990-2007) NSW annual bird reports and rare bird reports, published annually in Australian Birds.


Queensland Ornithological Society unusual sighting reports, published monthly in the Birds Qld Newsletter.


Schodde R (2007) Fig-Parrot facts—and fictions? Wingspan 17(2), 14-17.


Smyth AK, Pavey CR (2001) Foraging by the Black-breasted Button-quail (Turnix melanogaster) within fragmented rainforest of an agricultural landscape. Biological Conservation 98, 149-157.


Smyth AK, Young J (1996) Observations on the endangered Black-breasted Button-quail Turnix melanogaster breeding in the wild. Emu 96, 202-207.

Page last updated: 28 February 2011