New Zealand quail

Coturnix novaezelandiae Quoy & Gaimard, 1830

Order: Galliformes

Family: Phasianidae

New Zealand status: Endemic

Conservation status: Extinct

Other names: koreke

Geographical variation: Buller described some difference in colouration between South and North Island specimens

 
 
 
New Zealand quail. New Zealand quail. Image 1992-0035-2366/43. United Kingdom. Image © © Te Papa by George Edward Lodge See Te Papa website: http://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/objectdetails.aspx?irn=653086&term=new+zealand+quail

New Zealand quail. New Zealand quail. Image 1992-0035-2366/43. United Kingdom. Image © © Te Papa by George Edward Lodge See Te Papa website: http://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/objectdetails.aspx?irn=653086&term=new+zealand+quail

The New Zealand quail was a small ground bird and the only native representative of the pheasant and quail family. It was the first bird species known to have become extinct following European colonisation. Previously, it was common throughout the North and South Islands, with Māori exploiting it as a food source. There is little information available on its biology, apart from what can be determined from the few specimens held in museums.

Identification                                                                                       

The New Zealand quail was most closely related to the Australian stubble quail Coturnix pectoralis, and was not particularly closely related to the brown quail introduced to New Zealand from 1871. Both the female and male had barred white-and-black markings over brown base feathers. The nape varied in colour from brown to rufous-brown in males. The underbody feathers were buff with varying amounts of black barring. The female was slightly larger than the male. Their eyes were light hazel, bill black, and legs and toes pale flesh brown.

Distribution

The New Zealand quail was widely distributed throughout the main islands of New Zealand, especially where there was grassland habitat. It was most abundant in the South Island, especially east of the Southern Alps. Its distribution expanded after the arrival of Maori, who burnt large areas of forest thus creating grassland. By the mid-1800s, it had become scarce in the North Island and decreased rapidly in Canterbury as the result of agricultural conversion of the grasslands, and hunting. It was presumed extinct by 1875.

Habitat

The New Zealand quail was primarily an open-country bird, with fossil evidence and early historical records indicating that its preferred habitat was grassland and shrubland. As with other Coturnix species, the New Zealand quail had very stout legs and a torpedo-shaped body with which to run through thick grass and undergrowth.

Population

Both archaeological and European historical records indicate that the quail was widespread throughout New Zealand, apparently living in extended family coveys. Before the arrival of humans, quail coexisted with a wide range of potential avian predators. After Polynesian settlement, quail were subjected to hunting and potential predation by Pacific rats (kiore) and kuri (Polynesian dogs). New Zealand quail became extinct before ship rats, stoats and ferrets were widespread, but they were exposed to about 100 years of predation by Norway rats and feral cats, as well as vastly increased hunting pressure following the introduction of guns.

Breeding

The nest of the New Zealand quail was a cup-shaped indentation of flattened grass that was well concealed. The striped barring of the back feathers of the incubating adult (most probably the hen) blended perfectly with the ground cover surrounding the nest. The timing of breeding and the length of the breeding season is unknown.

Behaviour and ecology

Early European hunters described the call of the New Zealand quail as ‘twit, twit, twit, twee-twit’. Buller stated that quail were very common, and that daily bags of 40 or more birds were not uncommon.

Food

Little is known about the diet of the New Zealand quail. It was apparently mainly herbivorous, feeding on seeds, flowers and foliage. The closely-related stubble quail in Australia also takes adult insects, caterpillars and small frogs, as well as seeds and foliage.

Websites

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Zealand_Quail

References

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

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 [updated 2017]. New Zealand quail. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Online. www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz

New Zealand quail

Breeding season
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Nest type
ground-level hollow
Nest description
Cup-shaped indentation of flattened grass
Nest height (mean)
0 m
Nest height (min)
0 m
Nest height (max)
0 m
Maximum number of successful broods
Unknown
Clutch size (mean)
Unknown
Mean egg dimensions (length)
34 mm
Mean egg dimensions (width)
25 mm
Egg colour
Brownish-white with deep brown patches and lighter brown underlying markings
Egg laying dates
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Interval between eggs in a clutch
Unknown days
Incubation length (mean)
Unknown
Nestling period (mean)
Unknown
Age at fledging (mean)
Unknown
Age at independence (mean)
Unknown
Age at first breeding (typical)
Unknown
Maximum longevity
Unknown
Maximum dispersal
Unknown