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Buttonquails: Turnicidae

Behavior And Reproduction

The buttonquail breeding period is generally spring and summer, although tropical species breed all year round. In dry areas, buttonquails tend to breed only during the rainy season.

Buttonquails have an elaborate courtship routine. Females puff up, call with booming notes, stamp their feet, and scratch at the ground. In some species the wings are also spread. Then the male and female rock together, huddle together, dust bathe together, and preen each other's feathers. The female also offers the male a bit of food. In the "scrape ceremony," the female and male act out the motions of building a nest. The actual nest site tends to be in grass, frequently next to a tree. Either the male or female will throw bits of vegetation to the site, while the other partner builds it into a bowl shape, sometimes with a roof. The female does most of the work of nest-building.

Some species of buttonquails are monogamous (muh-NAH-guh-mus), meaning a female mates with a single male. In other species, however, there is a mating system known as sequential polyandry (PAH-lee-an-dree), in which a female courts a male, lays a set of eggs, and then leaves the male to incubate the eggs and raise the chicks while she courts another male. This mating system is fairly unusual among birds.


Sequential polyandry, found in some buttonquails, is a mating system in which females mate with multiple males over the course of one breeding season. It is rare among birds. Both monogamy, in which a single female mates with a single male, and polygamy, in which a single male mates with multiple females, are more common. Sequential polyandry accounts for buttonquail females being more brightly colored than males, since it is the females who have to convince the males to mate with them.

The number of eggs per clutch varies by species, but is generally between two and seven. Eggs hatch after twelve or thirteen days. Chicks are precocial, meaning they hatch at a developmentally advanced stage, covered with feathers and able to move. They follow the father, who feeds them termites and seeds.

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceBirdsButtonquails: Turnicidae - Physical Characteristics, Diet, Behavior And Reproduction, Conservation Status, Small Buttonquail (turnix Sylvatica): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, BUTTONQUAILS AND PEOPLE