Brown quail

Coturnix ypsilophora Bosc, 1792

Order: Galliformes

Family: Phasianidae

New Zealand status: Introduced

Conservation status: Introduced and Naturalised

Other names: Australian brown quail, kuera

Geographical variation: New Zealand brown quail are of the subspecies Coturnix ypsilophora australis from mainland Australia.

Brown quail. Adult. Tiritiri Matangi Island, March 2013. Image © Cheryl Marriner by Cheryl Marriner http://www.glen.co.nz/cheryl

Brown quail. Adult. Tiritiri Matangi Island, March 2013. Image © Cheryl Marriner by Cheryl Marriner http://www.glen.co.nz/cheryl

The brown quail was introduced to Auckland, Wellington, Otago and Southland during 1866-80, but is currently restricted to the northern North Island and its offshore islands. Along with failed releases of other quail species from Australia at the same time, it is possible that these releases contributed to the extinction of the endemic New Zealand quail through the introduction of new diseases. Tiritiri Matangi Island and Shakespear and Tawharanui Regional Parks are the most accessible places in New Zealand where brown quail are reliably found.

Identification

Brown quail are small, inconspicuous grey-brown quail, with intricately patterned plumage. The sexes are similar, but the female is slightly larger, and there are subtle differences in their plumage. The male has a more pronounced russet or cream throat patch, and bolder white longitudinal streaks on its upper-wing feathers. The red-brown and dark brown chevron pattern on the flanks of the female are more prominent compared to the lighter colour of the male, and the chest feathers of the female are red-brown compared to grey-brown on the male. Eye colour varies from red to yellow and the legs are orange or yellow. Both sexes have black bills.

Voice: the main call is a high pitched 'ker-wee' with a rising inflexion.

Similar species: California quail are large, plainer grey-brown dorsally, and have an erect plume crest.

Distribution and habitat

Although released throughout New Zealand, the range of brown quail retracted gradually northwards. It is now mainly confined to East Cape, the Coromandel Peninsula, North Auckland and Northland, plus Moutohora/Whale Island, several islands in the Hauraki Gulf and north to the Three Kings Islands, with scattered records south to the Manawatu. There are no records of quail being introduced to offshore islands, which indicates they are capable of flying considerable distances. Brown quail became common on Tiritiri Matangi Island and in Tawharanui and Shakespear Regional Parks following eradication of introduced predators.

Brown quail are cryptically coloured to blend with their preferred habitat of scrub and rough grassland. In both Australia and New Zealand, brown quail are frequently seen around wetland margins and on road verges.

Population

The largest populations of brown quail are in the Far North and on introduced-predator free islands of the Hauraki Gulf and the Bay of Plenty. The population on 220 ha Tiritiri Matangi Island is estimated to be 200-300 birds.

Breeding

Brown quail form breeding pairs in spring. Eggs are laid between July and January in a simple scrape in the ground or flattened grass, Nests are well hidden under dense vegetation, and both they and the  incubating female are very difficult to detect. Once hatched, the precocial chicks gather in extended family group coveys.  

Behaviour and ecology

Brown quail give a range of shrill, piercing calls that carry through thick undergrowth and are used to bring covey members together. Outside the breeding season, the family group breaks up and most quail are observed as pairs. Brown quail do not defend territories but do occupy a defined home range. In Australia, brown quail are nomadic, moving between suitable habitat for foraging and breeding. Brown quail often dust bathe in open dry sunny patches on the edges of shrubland.

Food

Brown quail glean from low foliage and forage in leaf litter for seeds, leaves, flowers and invertebrates. Analysis of faecal samples showed a high proportion of invertebrate parts.

Websites

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_Quail

http://hunting.fishandgame.org.nz/brown-quail

http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=200

References

Australian Museum. 2005. Birds in backyards: Bird Finder. http://www.birdsinbackyards.net/species/Coturnix-ypsilophora

BirdLife International. 2012. Species factsheet: Coturnix ypsilophora. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org

Buller, W.L. 1888. A history of the birds of New Zealand. London, The Author.

Cheeseman, T. F. 1887. Notes on the Three Kings Islands. Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand 1868-1961, Art. XXII.

Marchant, S.; Higgins, P.J. 1993. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic birds. Vol. 2 raptors to lapwings. Melbourne, Oxford University Press.

Parker, K.A.; Seabrook-Davison, M.N.H.; Ewen, J.G. 2010. Opportunities for non-native ecological replacements in ecosystem restoration. Restoration Ecology 18: 269-273.

Seabrook-Davison, M.N.H.; Huynen, L.; Lambert, D.M.; Brunton, D.H. 2009. Ancient DNA resolves identity and phylogeny of New Zealand’s extinct and living quail (Coturnix sp.). PLoSONE 4/7 e6400 http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0006400

Wilson, K. 2004. Flight of the huia: ecology and conservation of New Zealand’s frogs, reptiles, birds and mammals. Christchurch, Canterbury University Press.

Recommended citation

Seabrook-Davison, M.N.H. 2013. Brown quail. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Online. www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz

Brown quail

Breeding season
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Egg laying dates
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Nestling type
altricial

Australian brown quail

Social structure
monogamous
Breeding season
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Nest type
ground-level hollow, scrape
Nest description
Cup-shaped indentation of flattened grass or scrape in ground under cover.
Nest height (mean)
0.00 m
Maximum number of successful broods
2
Clutch size (mean)
7-12
Clutch size (min)
7
Clutch size (max)
12
Mean egg dimensions (length)
28.00 mm
Mean egg dimensions (width)
23.00 mm
Egg colour
Light coloured eggs with brown freckles and splotches
Egg laying dates
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Incubation behaviour
female only
Incubation length (mean)
21 days
Nestling type
precocial
Nestling period (mean)
None
Age at independence (mean)
28-30 days
Age at first breeding (typical)
Sexually mature at 100 days
Maximum longevity
Unknown
Maximum dispersal
Unknown