Nature conservation

Threatened species

Black-breasted Button-quail - profile

Indicative distribution

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The areas shown in pink and/purple are the sub-regions where the species or community is known or predicted to occur. They may not occur thoughout the sub-region but may be restricted to certain areas. ( click here to see geographic restrictions). The information presented in this map is only indicative and may contain errors and omissions.
Scientific name: Turnix melanogaster
Conservation status in NSW: Critically Endangered
Commonwealth status: Vulnerable
Gazetted date: 31 Jul 2009
Profile last updated: 21 Jun 2019


The Black-breasted Button-quail is a fairly large and plump, dark, quail-like ground bird, similar in size to Brown Quail (Coturnix ypsilophora), which are quite unrelated. The upperparts are mottled with rufous-brown, black, grey and white, and the foreneck and breast are black with profuse white spotting and barring. In males, the face and throat are white with fine black speckling; in females the head and neck are black with some white speckling. Adults have off-white eyes, grey bill and pale-yellow legs. Juvenile birds resemble males but are duller in colour. The combination of fairly large size, whitish eyes, and black neck and breast boldy spotted and barred with white distinguish Black-breasted Button-quails from other button-quails and from true quails. Nevertheless, care is needed to distinguish males and juveniles from Painted Button-quails (Turnix varia), the ranges of which may overlap. The call of females is a very low and resonant repeated booming oo-oom, which is also described as a low and tremulous drumming.


The Black-breasted Button-quail is endemic to south-eastern Queensland and far north-eastern NSW, at scattered sites from the Byfield region south to the Border Ranges and mainly on and east of the Great Divide but extending inland to the inner western slopes, up to 300 km from the coast. There have been few recent records in north-eastern NSW, with only ten records, from six localities, in the 20 years to 2000, though there are many records directly adjacent to NSW across the Queensland border. There have been no published reports since 2000. There were a few records on the New England Tableland in the late 1960s and 1970s, though there validity has been questioned.

Habitat and ecology

  • Preferred habitat includes drier low closed forests, including dry rainforests, vine forest and vine thickets, often in association with Hoop Pine, and Bottletree scrubs. The understorey may be dense or sparse, but a deep, moist leaf-litter layer, in which the birds forage, is an important component of habitat. Birds have been recorded using Lantana thickets at edges of rainforest or Lantana understorey of forest or rainforest, but it is not known if Lantana associations are suitable for sustaining breeding.
  • During droughts, birds may move into wetter rainforests bordering dry rainforests.
  • In NSW, as well as drier rainforests, may occupy wetter subtropical rainforests, sometimes in association with moist eucalypt forest.
  • Black-breasted Button-quails forage in leaf-litter by pivot-feeding, scratching at the leaf-litter with one leg while pivoting the body on the other, displacing leaves and soil, and exposing invertebrate prey. This method of foraging produces distinctive circular saucer-shaped depressions, often termed platelets, 15-25cm in diameter.
  • Birds feed during the day and at night. The diet consists mainly of small, ground-dwelling invertebrates and seeds.
  • Breeding has been recorded from September to May but it is possible that breeding occurs throughout the year at some sites. Clutches comprise 3-5 eggs, and females may lay several clutches in a season. Eggs are incubated, and young cared for, solely by the male.
  • Usually seen in pairs or in small, probably family groups. Females, which are territorial, are occasionally seen singly.
  • The relationships of the button-quails (Turnicidae) have long been unclear, having been placed variously in their own order, or with the Galliformes or Gruiformes. Recent studies have shown that the button-quails are actually related to the gulls and terns and their relatives (Charadriiformes).

Regional distribution and habitat

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Recovery strategies

Activities to assist this species

Information sources

IBRA Bioregion IBRA Subregion Known or predicted Geographic restrictions region
New England TablelandsWalcha Plateau Known None
NSW North CoastChaelundi Known None
Other StateQLD Known None
South Eastern QueenslandScenic Rim Known None
South Eastern QueenslandWoodenbong Known None