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THE STUBBLE QUAIL
Coturnix pectoralis

Other names: Grey Quail, Pectoral Quail.

Distribution and Habitat

In the wild state, Stubble Quail are highly nomadic and the population in any one area can fluctuate widely depending on the rainfall that area has received. They are common in eastern and south-eastern Australia and coastal southern region of West Australia and present in lesser numbers in central Australia, the Kimberleys, Northern Territory and Queensland.

Stubble Quail prefer open grassland areas, more open then that adopted by the Brown Quail.  They have adapted to stubble, cereal and lucerne crops and pastures but can also be found in native grasslands, saltbush or spinifex grasslands.

Their diet consists of seeds, green grasses, insects, caterpillars and small frogs.  In cultivated areas, these birds prefer the seeds of introduced species of plants, including those considered weeds in crop pastures but in dry inland areas, seeds of native grasses are eaten.  Although the numbers of Stubble Quail in some locations have increased secondary to clearing of woodlands and crop cultivation, much of their habitat has been destroyed by sheep and rabbits, so that overall numbers may not have increased. Ii is still the most common of the native quail in the wild and is hunted at certain times of the year.

When disturbed, they will first try to escape by running through cover, only flushing it desperate. They fly with a loud whirring of wings, just above the grass for approximately 50m, then drop to the ground and continue running.  It is difficult to flush them twice.

Description

The adult Stubble Quail is 18 to 18.5cm in length, with the female usually being slightly larger than the male (as it common in the Coturnix genus). The sexes are easy to distinguish.

Both sexes are dark brown above with pale buff markings.  The centre of each feather has a cream stripe running down it, giving the plumage a streaked appearance.  In the male, the sides of the face and throat are light chestnut; in the female the throat is white and the sides of the face and neck ate pale buff with darker spots.  In both sexes the feathers of the head and nape are black with buff tips and there is a white eyebrow and white line through the centre of the head.  In the male the chest has a prominent black pattern with the rest of the chest and abdomen being white with a black central streak.  The hen lacks the black chest patch, having a paler buff coloured chest with darker markings through it.  Both sexes have a red-brown iris, black bill and flesh coloured legs and feet.

Voice

A three syllable clear whistle or a sharp clear "too-wheep".

Nesting

The nesting season starts in September, hence the first broods usually hatch in October.  The season extends into February with some late broods hatching in March.  Breeding is heavily influenced by the amount of rainfall and in the inland of Australia, breeding can occur well into autumn.  The nest is usually made in thick cover and consists of a scrape in the ground lined with grass.  In this the hen lays usually 7 to 8 (occasionally as many as 14 have been found) pale yellow or light brown eggs, with dark brown blotches which she alone incubates for 18 days.  The chicks are a buff colour with dark stripes running down the flanks and down the centre of the back

Avicultural Notes

Stubble Quail tend to be shy birds and will look for cover as soon as anyone approaches the aviary.  It is therefore best to keep them in a largish well planted aviary.  Spinifex grass or Johnson grass is well suited for providing shelter.  It the aviary isn't planted, it is important to provide them with an area of cover that they can get into or behind.  Brush or hay stacked in the corner, stuffed with finer grasses provides good shelter. I have found that, with cover provided plus patience and bribery with plenty of mealworms, the birds will gradually become less timid.  Young birds treated with daily live food and other tit-bits can become quite tame.  If your birds are particularly flighty, it is advisable to clip a wing until they settle down to prevent birds hitting the roof of the aviary and scalping or even killing themselves.

In captivity the breeding season extends from September to January or February.  They tend to lay more eggs than wild birds; usual nests consist of ten or so eggs but up to 15 may be laid. Eggs are laid at 48 hour intervals.  Some hens may lay numerous eggs around the aviary, similar to some King Quail hens.  This may reflect inadequate or unsuitable cover for the hen to hide her nest securely.

Although Stubble Quail have been known to raise young successfully on dry seed alone, green food should be provided (they seem especially fond of seeding grasses) and live food will be appreciated.

Summary

The Stubble Quail is a relatively cheap and very attractive addition to an aviary.  They are generally quiet birds, require little special attention and can breed freely if given the right conditions. Unfortunately they have never been a high profile bird and are currently only kept by a very small number of aviculturists.