Local insects and animals- Cricket, the painted button quail

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We have a new family member; Cricket the Painted Button quail (we think). He was handed in to our local cafe, who rang me one afternoon. Apparently a local man saw a bird hit by a car and stopped to help. The mother (or as we later found out, father) had been hit and killed but the three or four babies were still gathered around the body. The man picked up two of the babies but couldn’t catch the others (they are very fast) so he stopped at the cafe to see if they knew anyone who could care for them. I picked up a box on the way home from work, in that box were two little brown cotton balls with legs.

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Of course we didn’t try to identify them then, we just put them on heat, supplied water and went looking for a white ants nest. We knew they were some sort of quail and quail are omnivorous (they eat insects, some seeds and some fruit) but when they are young and growing they need protein and fat; that’s what white ants are made of. One of the two died during the night, either injured by the same car that killed his father, or from exposure. The one baby that was left started to eat his weight in white ants and canary seed every few hours. My daughter did all the caring for this one; she kept his box and later cage clean and warm, found white ants daily, fed him insectivore mix and canary seed and generally made sure he had some sunlight every day. He grew into a small adult quail within three weeks. Now it was time to identify him.

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My daughter noticed that Cricket (as he came to be known; because he’s one lucky bug) had only three toes on each foot, he was missing the backwards facing ‘thumb’ that most quail have. This turned out to be a dead giveaway.

Australia has two kinds of quail; true quail, which have three toes at the front and a ‘thumb’ facing backwards, while button quail have only three toes and no ‘thumb’. So we knew he was a button quail, we took a guess at which species based on the distribution map in our bird field guide which was confirmed as he grew in his adult colours.

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The really interesting thing about painted button quail is their breeding habits. Apparently the female maintains a territory and the males wander from place to place. When a female comes across a male she likes, she courts him, they make a nest and she lays four eggs. Then she leaves the male to sit on the eggs while she goes off to find another male to court. In this way she can have up to three males sitting on eggs in her territory at one time. What a great way to make sure there are enough little painted quail. We don’t know if these quail are rare or not because some sites say these little guys are vulnerable, while other say they are secure.

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When he was a grown up Cricket, we let him wander in the garden. He still lives around the humpy…somewhere, we hope he finds a girl friend to lay eggs for him to sit on one day.

Update; Cricket laid an egg!!! I found a little nest with one egg in it. No sign of any other quail. Maybe Cricket is a girl?

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