The Brown Quail – Coturnix australis

Other names – Swamp Quail
Length – 175-2OOmm (6.89-7.87 inches)
Adult weight – 65-140 grams (females tend to be heavier).

Description – Cock – Upper parts dark brown marked with black and chestnut1 each feather with a central white stripe. Chin and throat light brown. Remainder of underparts lighter brown with black scalloping. Upper breast darken Eyes red, brown or yellow. Bill black or dark brown. Legs and feet yellowish.

- Hen – Similar to cock but more heavily marked with black and with less chestnut on the back.

Sexing – Adults may be sexed with relative ease by visual differences. Hens also tend to appear somewhat larger than cocks. Difficulty exists when individuals or different colour morphs are compared. Three colour morphs exist namely brown, grey and red. All hens are of the brown morph but cocks may be of either of three colour forms. Red morph cocks predominate in the north and In arid areas. Grey morph cocks are rarer in Australia but common In mainland New Guinea. This variation between cocks will also affect the degree to which sexual dimorphism is shown in an area. Juveniles will attain adult plumage at 10-12 weeks of age.

Hatching – The newly hatched chick is golden brown with two dark stripes down the back and a thin chocolate brown line running back from the corner of the eye. The depth of colour of the newly hatched chicks may give some indication of sex with the darker chicks usually being young cocks (and therefore showing similar differences to adults).

Distribution and Habitat – This species is found in New Guinea, Australia, Lesser Sunda Islands, Fiji and New Zealand (in the latter two it Is an introduced species). It is generally resident but inland birds may be nomadic. Birds have also been recorded as migrating from southern Papua New Guinea to Northern Australia.

In the wild this species occupies a variety of habitats ranging from Eucalypt woodlands to rainforest. Its only requirements are that the area contains regions of dense grass or herbage In moister areas. Riverbanks and roadsides are popular and this is where they are commonly seen as they move out into open areas to feed.

Subspecies – Four Australian subspecies are recognised. These are:

C. a. australis – This Is the nominate form found throughout mainland Australia. The cock of the brown morph Is as described above. Red and grey morph cocks have a predominance of their appropriate colour replacing part of the chestnut on the back and sides.

C. a. ysilophora – This subspecies still causes some confusion. Also known as the Swamp Quail, this subspecies Is considered larger, more clearly marked and has a yellow Iris. It is generally documented as a form restricted to Tasmania but recent studies have shown that individuals in the mountainous areas of Papua New Guinea also show these characteristics.

C. a. queenslandlcus – This is a subspecies recognised from the Cape York Peninsula, Queensland. It is considered smaller than the nominate subspecies.

C. a. cervinus – This subspecies is recognised from the Kimberley region, Western Australia and is considered smaller, paler and redder than the nominate subspecies.

Only the former two subspecies, C. a australis and C. a. ysilophora are known to exist In aviaries in their pure form.

Housing – Although somewhat bulky, this species is considered suitable for a mixed collection of finches, softbills, pigeons and doves and small parrots. Only In large aviaries greater than 10m2 (108 feet9 floor area, should this species be mixed with other quail or colony bred as they can be particularly territorial. This can also be a problem if housed with ground nesting pigeons such as Squatter Pigeons. When I have had these species nesting together, the Brown Quail tend to dominate and may drive the pigeons off the nest. This species looks most attractive when housed in a lightly planted aviary. When introduced into an aviary, some individuals of this species may be flighty and this will often result in scalped birds if measures are not taken to avoid it. Prior to releasing your new purchase into the aviary, it is wise to clip both the primary and secondary feathers of one wing to restrict the power of flight. A cover or plant growth, grass or dried brush will also reduce the nervous tendencies of these birds. Unless the individual birds are known to be quiet, it is generally unfair to the birds to expect them to feel secure in open parrot-type aviaries. The call of this species is generally unobtrusive but the mating call Of the cock can be penetrating if two cocks are kept within earshot of each other and continually point out their territories to each other. Occasionally this species may call at night, but I am yet to associate this with any greater risk of cat attacks as is often suggested.

Feeding – In the wild, this species forages in open areas and light undergrowth for seeds, insects and greens. In the aviary, a commercial small seed mix (such as Finch, Budgerigar or Small Parrot mix) is adequate for a maintenance diet when supplemented with greenfeed. This species will tend to scratch the seed out of shallow containers so seed is best supplied in a deep l00mm (4 inches) container or in a shallow tray covered 50 (2 inch) plastic trellis mesh. White ants, mealworms or maggots (gentles) should be fed daily during the breeding season. Other foods that will be readily accepted by this species include coarse laying mash, dotterel mix, and turkey starter crumbles.

Breeding – Nesting may occur at any time of the year, however August to May Is the peak breeding season. Some pairs may be erratic in their breeding and several successful nests may be followed by a period of inactivity.

Nests are built on the ground usually in a secluded site against a grass clump or In a corner under shelter The nest is little more than a scrape in the ground lined with grasses pulled in from the immediate surroundings of the nest area. Some pairs will unfortunately lay their eggs all over the aviary floor. This generally can be related to a lack of privacy and the provision of more grass clumps or tea-tree branches placed in the corners may help.