The following is posted on behalf of Lloyd Nielson at Mt Molloy on the
Atherton Tablelands. Lloyd will be getting email access within a few days,
in the meantime if anyone can help out please email me privately and I will
collate responses and forward them on him.
Buff-breasted Button-quail (Long)
The Buff-breasted Button-quail is the least known of Australia's land
birds. It has never been photographed and was the only Australian endemic
species not recorded during the Atlas survey of 1977-81 (apart from the
probably extinct Paradise Parrot). Its downy young and juvenile plumage
have never been described. The population appears to be extremely small and
it is highly likely the species in endangered. Indeed it has recently been
added to the Federal Endangered Species List.
In the 100 years since its discovery, it has been recorded from only about
8 sites between Iron Range in the north to the Mareeba district in the
south on the eastern side of Cape York Peninsula. There are a couple of
probable sightings outside this area to as far south as the dry country
west of Ingham.
The first skin collected was taken near Cooktown in 1894 by E.A.C. Olive.
In 1922 W. McLennan, a field collector for H.L. White found a small
population about Coen, south of Iron Range, collecting 6 skins and several
clutches of eggs during a stay of several months (Emu 22:99-116). In the
early 1970s John Young found a nest near Mareeba and later found it
breeding at Iron Range. John Squire (Australian Bird Watcher 13:149-52)
found several birds about Davies Creek near Mareeba in 1985. In early 1992
I (Lloyd Nielson) located a small population about Mt Molloy, which was
breeding at the time. Since then I have endeavoured to keep track of the
species but the population appears to have dwindled considerably since then
- I had only 2 sightings in 1998.
The Buff-breasted Button-quail can be confused easily with the Painted
Button-quail. When flushed the Buff-breasted appears as a large plain
greyish-brown quail with primaries distinctly darker than the rest of the
wings. It rises to a metre, usually less and flies away on a fairly
straight path. The Painted appears similar but is fairly evenly coloured
without the contrast between the primaries and the rest of the wings.
Sometimes the chestnut across the shoulders of the Painted can be seen if a
bird is flushed at close range, and can sometimes be seen with binoculars
as it flies away. The Painted rises to about the same height as the
Buff-breasted. If seen on the ground at close quarters, the Buff-breasted
is fairly plain about the head with a yellow eye, an obvious large, thick
bill and a plain dull buff breast and belly. The Painted is spotted white
about the face which continues onot the breast and belly. It has a red eye.
Both are silent when flushed. The Brown Quail is quite warm brown, usually
rising higher in a distinctive arcing fashion to 1-2 metres and often
uttering cheeping notes. A button-quail flushed from dense grass is
unlikely to be a Buff-breasted, but most likely a Painted, Brown or one of
the smaller button-quail such as the Red-backed. The Buff-breasted is
essentially a bird of drier tropical woodland.
Both species - Buff-breasted and Painted Button-quail - occur in the
tropical woodland about Mt Molloy and Mareeba - the Buff-breasted
preferring a much sparser growth of grass than the Painted. So far I have
found the Buff-breasted only in a very distinct habitat - patches of
lightly grassed woodland occurring as scattered 'islands' within the dry
tropical woodland, mostly at the base of hills and vegetated with eucalytus
species and small broad-leaved melaleucas. On the other hand, the Painted
occurs widely throughout the more densely grassed woodland of the ridges.
However, it appears that when the sparse grass of the Buff-breasted habitat
thickens e.g. at the start of a normal wet season, it vacates it and the
Painted moves in from the surrounding tropical woodland.
The Queensland Ornithological Society has generously made available a grant
to determine the present status of the Buff-breasted Button-quail
throughout its known range. Part of the project will be the plotting of the
distinctive habitat in which it has been found. I will be undertaking the
survey which will run for 12 months and which should commence about
I would be grateful to hear of any probable sightings even if well outside
the known range. If you have a fairly positive sighting or sightings of
the Buff-breasted (apart from the Mt Molloy area), either recent or from
the last few years I would be pleased to hear about it. The exact locality
would be important. My home phone number is (07) 4094 1549 or
alternativwely fax or leave a message on (07) 4094 1372 or write to me at
PO Box 55, Mt Molloy, Q4871.