Red-backed button-quail (Turnix maculosus) - vulnerable species listing

The Scientific Committee, established by the Threatened Species Conservation Act, has made a Final Determination to list the Red-backed Button-quail Turnix maculosa (Temminck, 1815) as a VULNERABLE SPECIES in Schedule 2 of the Act. Listing of vulnerable species is provided for by Part 2 of the Act.

This species is now known as Turnix maculosus (Temminck, 1815) [NSW Government Gazette No. 113, 25 November 2011, Pages 6717-6718].

NSW Scientific Committee - final determination

The Scientific Committee has found that:

1. The Red-backed Button-quail Turnix maculosa (Temminck, 1815) is a small, ground-dwelling bird of length 12-16 cm and weight 35-45 g. Individuals have a pattern of bold black spots and bars over pale or deep-buff on the sides of the breast, flanks and wing-coverts; birds also have a rufous-brown or chestnut hindneck-collar and shoulder-patch. Red-back Button-quail may be distinguished from other quail by their fine yellow bill (Marchant and Higgins 1993).

2. The Red-backed Button-quail is distributed from the Philippines and eastern Indonesia, through Papua New Guinea, Australia and east to the Solomon Islands (Marchant and Higgins 1993). In Australia, the species has a largely coastal and sub-coastal range from the Kimberley region, Western Australia, through the Northern Territory, Queensland and NSW (Barrett et al. 2003, Blakers et al. 1984, Marchant and Higgins 1993). In NSW, the majority of Red-backed Button-quail records are from the North Coast Bioregion with a small number of records south as far as Sydney. Three outlying records are known from western NSW; a breeding record from Finley in 1954, a single 1955 record from the Macquarie Marshes and a record from Coolabah in 2000.

3. The Red-backed Button-quail is a cryptic species and its specific ecology is poorly documented. The species is nocturnal and crepuscular and feeds on insects and seeds (Marchant and Higgins 1993). They normally hide and freeze rather than flushing, although individuals will fly for short distances before dropping back to cover. Red-backed Button-quail may be encountered individually, in pairs or in small family groups.

4. Red-backed Button-quail inhabit grasslands, woodlands and cropped lands of warm temperate areas that annually receive 400 mm or more of summer rain (Marchant and Higgins 1993). Observations of populations in other parts of its range suggest the species prefers sites near water, including grasslands and sedgelands near creeks, swamps and springs, and wetlands. Red-backed Button-quail usually breed in dense grass near water, and nests are made in a shallow depression sparsely lined with grass and ground litter.

5. The population of Red-backed Button-quail known from around Sydney in the late 19th century was last recorded in 1912 (Blakers et al. 1984, Australian Museum catalogue). During the period 1980 to 1995 there was considerable ornithological survey work undertaken in NSW and the average reporting rate for this species was two birds per year. From 1996 to the present time only six additional observations have been confirmed (0.75 records per year) despite the additional survey work for the second Bird Atlas (Barrett et al. 2003). There is some indication of a continental decline in this species (Franklin 1999) but it is not considered to be of national conservation concern (Garnett and Crowley 2000). Between 1977 and 1994, there were 17 records of Red-backed Button-quail from four NSW north coast reserves (Bundjalung, Crowdy Bay, Nymboida and Yuraygir National Parks) but since August 1994, there have been no further records of Red-backed Button-quail within reserves in NSW.

6. Red-backed Button-quail may be threatened by inappropriate burning and grazing regimes that destroy extensive areas of ground layer vegetation or enable occlusion of grasslands and grassy woodlands by woody weeds (Harrington and Sanderson 1994, Crowley and Garnett 1998). Although the species can apparently utilise cropped or irrigated lands (Marchant and Higgins 1993), the drainage of coastal wetlands for agriculture, particularly sugar cane farming, and urban development reduces the availability of breeding habitat. Trampling and disturbance by livestock and feral pigs, may alter the quality of remaining habitat and could directly affect nesting birds (Garnett and Crowley 2000). The preferred habitat of Red-backed Button-quail is also poorly represented in formal reserves in NSW and may not ensure the long-term survival of the species.

7. The ground-dwelling nature of the Red-backed Button-quail and its defensive habit of freezing when disturbed render the species susceptible to predation by introduced predators. Further, clearing and alteration of habitat increases the number of feral and domestic predators such as the feral pig, red fox and cat.

8. In view of the above the Scientific Committee is of the opinion that the Red-backed Button-quail Turnix maculosa (Temminck, 1815) is likely to become endangered in NSW unless the circumstances and factors threatening its survival or evolutionary development cease to operate.

Dr Lesley Hughes
Scientific Committee

Proposed Gazettal date: 21/10/05
Exhibition period 21/10/05 -16/12/05


Barrett G, Silcocks A, Barry S, Cunningham R, Poulter R (2003) 'The new atlas of Australian birds.' (Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union: Hawthorn East, Vic.)

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

Crowley GM, Garnett ST (1998) Vegetation change in the grasslands and grassy woodlands of east-central Cape York Peninsula, Australia. Pacific Conservation Biology 4, 132-148.

Franklin DC (1999) Evidence of disarray amongst granivorous bird assemblages in the savannas of northern Australia, a region of sparse human settlement. Biological Conservation 90, 53-68.

Garnett ST, Crowley GM (2000) 'The action plan for Australian birds 2000.' Environment Australia, Canberra.

Harrington GN, Sanderson KD (1994) Recent contraction of wet sclerophyll forest boundary in the wet tropics of Queensland due to invasion by rainforest. Pacific Conservation Biology 1, 319-327.

Marchant S, Higgins PJ (1993) (Eds) 'Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds. Volume 2 raptors to lapwings.' (Oxford University Press: Melbourne)