Button Quail FAQ

Updated December 3, 2011

How long do button quails live?

They seem to average 3 to 5 years for males (though I've heard of as long as 9), and 2 to 4 years for females. The hen's lifespan depends a lot on how much she has had to lay eggs and whether she has had adequate nutrition to keep her from "depleting" her body's resources. Protein, calcium and vitamin D are essential for female button longevity. Of course, any button who lives in a stressful environment, or gets injured seriously or repeatedly, is going to have a shorter life-expectancy.

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How do you tell male from female?

Most males have a white "bib" under their neck; hens do not, and are more muted in color (i.e., camouflage for nesting). Many males have chest feathers that are a form of red (from pinkish to chestnut or brick-red); hens do not. In some mutations (blue-face and red-breasted) the males lack the white bibs, but still have more vibrant colors than the hens. Whites lack any bib or gender-related coloring.

There are ways to tell male from female by getting "up close and personal"; if you examine the vent, a hen who has lain eggs will have a larger vent, and supposedly, if you press the area just behind the male's vent, he will secrete a white foamy substance (eeew!). Hens are also supposedly larger through the "hips", to accomodate egg-laying.

One other thing I have noticed; males often make a low growling sound (puffing out their throat) before calling. I call it "revving up". I have never heard a hen do this, but most males seem to do it on occasion. They kind of make a little bounce with their neck, puff up the throat, make the growl one or more times, and then stretch up to make the actual call.

For more info and lots of pics, follow this link: Quail Mutations.

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How big should their tank/cage be?

Well, the bigger the better. A 4' x 1' fishtank can comfortably hold 1 male and 1-3 females. Most of the time if you put two males together, they will fight, unless you have a really gigantic aviary. Normally, a ten-gallon fishtank is too small, unless it's just being used temporarily, or for travel.

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What do I feed them?

First, they need a high-protein diet. The best way to supply this is with gamebird or turkey crumble (non-medicated is preferable; protein 22 - 25%). It usually comes in big chunks, so you may need to grind it down. I use an old hand-crank coffee grinder, which makes the pieces quail-sized, but not so small as to be a powder. Never buy a huge bag of crumble for just a few buttons; it will inevitably get moldy/stale/buggy and you'll end up wasting 99% of it. Don't switch them from seeds to crumble "cold-turkey", keep the seeds available to them as well, but they should catch on to the crumble pretty quickly. It's way better for them.

Of course, they also like seeds, but these should not be their staple diet, because they are not nutritionally very useful. I feed my buttons millet and hemp seeds, and they really like millet that is still on the stalk ("spray" millet) and millet that has had the shell removed (available at health food and organic food stores).

They love live food, such as mealworms, waxwroms, crickets, etc.You can get them some mealworms or crickets for a treat too, but no more than six per day per bird. Don't be surprised if the male gives all his insects to the hen instead of eating them himself; it's his way of showing her he cares.

They also love many kinds of fresh fruits and veggies, but which ones in particular seems to depend on the individual bird. You can experiment with any fresh veggies or fruits and see how your buttons like them, but do not feed them avocadoes, as these are toxic to birds.

For more info see Feeding your Button Quail.

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Okay, where do I get crumble by the pound?

Start by checking your local farm/feed store. If you can't find any locally, try Amazon.com. Online feed retailers seem to come and go faster than I can keep up with them, but with any luck Amazon will be around forever.

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Do button quails smell bad?

They shouldn't smell at all, and as long as you have a big enough cage/tank, and you use at least 2" of pine shavings in the bottom, it shouldn't be an issue. Here's a hint: buy the shavings that come in a giant paper bag; most bigger pet stores will be able to sell it to you this way; it's more economical, and these shavings seem to be fluffier, whereas when you buy it in smaller quantities, the shavings are all crushed, more like sawdust than anything, and these really aren't as good.

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When I brought them home, a lot of them had bald backs. Why?

They have been plucked by their cagemates (probably because they were overcrowded in their last home). The feathers will grow back naturally, but you must be sure that they do not pluck out each others new feathers as they are coming in. If you see them doing this (the new feathers look like little sticks sprouting out of their backs), then separate them until all the new feathers are fully in.

To help them grow the new feathers, feed them a diet that is high in protein, such as gamebird or turkey crumble, or mashed-up hardboiled eggs. They should be eating a lot of crumble anyway, as it is very good for them.

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My button has injuries to its head. Why, and what do I do?

First, where exactly on the head is the injury? Normally, pecking injuries (inflicted by other buttons) occur around the eyes (and between the wings on the lower back), while boinking injuries (from the button becoming scared and flying up) are more centered at the top and back of the head. Either way, your button will probably be okay, just keep him warm, quiet and well fed, and maybe put a dab of antibiotic ointment on the injury. But don't kid yourself; buttons can very easily die from flying up and hitting their heads, which is why it's very important to have a soft, safe roof in their cage or tank. If you see blood coming out at the ears, it's a very serious "boinking" injury, which may be fatal, but also may be something he can recover from.

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How long before they start laying eggs?

They are able to begin laying as young as six weeks old (though many don't start until later), and laying is related to daylight hours. Generally, 14 hours or more daylight stimulates egg-laying, while less than 14 hours inhibits it. My birds get no artificial light, and simply go to sleep when it gets dark outside, summer and winter. Hens definitely need a break from laying eggs in the winter. If you have recently bought your buttons, and they won't lay eggs in your house, just wait a while and feed them a good diet. When they are moved, it disrupts their laying cycle, and it can take them several weeks to get back on track and start laying again.

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My hen lays lots of eggs, but won't nest on them. Why not?

Unfortunately, some button hens just won't nest at all; they seem to have lost the instinct for it. But their environment has a lot to do with it. For instance, for a pair, they will be comforatable in a fishtank that is 4 feet long, or you could make a cage out of something different altogether, like I have one cage made out of an old coffee table, and another one made out of $10 plastic shelving from Wal-Mart.

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How do I encourage her to nest on them?

The size of the cage and the amount of places your hen has to hide and feel secure also makes a difference as to whether or not she's likely to nest. Have a look at the following page for more info: Breeding Button Quail.

It never hurts to put in some "sight barriers" (aka hidey places) to make them feel more protected. In a large avairy, you can use real plants, or for convenience, plastic ones, which you can just hose off when they get dirty. Some quails also like boxes with doors cut into them, or flowerpots turned on their sides; others do not care for this kind of thing. I guess the trick is to have something for everyone.

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I think she's nesting; how can I be sure?

When a hen is nesting, she'll make a small mountain out of her bedding, puff all up, and nestle down on the eggs. If she's serious about it, and you go near her, she should make a very angry chattering sound. Don't confuse this with "dust-bathing", which is when they dig a hole and ruffle way down in it, rolling and stretching and getting the bedding down under their feathers. Dust-bathing has nothing to do with nesting, even though they can look a little bit similar.

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How long does it take button eggs to hatch?

If the hen is nesting on the eggs herself, the normal incubation period is 16 days. But if the eggs are in an incubator, it can take 17 to 21 days, and even sometimes as long as 24 days.

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My hen is nesting. Do I leave the male in with her?

Hens are not always the only caregivers to the chicks, males can be good parents too. But just as often the males can attack and kill the chicks. Some people just remove the males right before the eggs are due to hatch, to avoid any potential problems, but if you have a male that helps with the nesting duties, he may end up being a good dad after the eggs hatch too. If the male has helped with the nesting, all you can do is watch him *very carefully* once the eggs begin to hatch, and if you see even the slightest hint of aggression towards the chicks, remove him at once.

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Okay, I tried everything, and she still won't nest. What do I do with all those eggs?

If your hen still won't nest, you can actually hard boil the little eggs and feed them back to the buttons. You only have to boil the eggs for about 4 minutes, then cool them and grind them up, shell and all, in a food processor. Keep them in the fridge, and feed them to the buttons in servings of about 1 teaspoon a day. They should love it and it will help the hen replenish the nutrients she uses to make her eggs.

You can differentiate good eggs from bad by setting them in a glass of water. If the egg sinks it is "fresh". If it floats to the top or turns one-end-up, it has begun to go bad and should be thrown out.

On the same subject, you should also give them access to grit and a calcium supplement. Your hen needs lots of calcium to make all those egg shells so you should get her a calcium and vitamin D supplement (essential for absorption of the calcium). Even if you buy "human" ones and crush them up, it will be great for her.

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My button has lumps of dried droppings on the ends of his toes. What do I do?

When buttons are kept (by breeders for instance) in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, They will get buildups of droppings on their toes. As the buildups (also known as "accretions") get bigger, they will cut off the circulation to the toes, causing the toe to die and break off. I have had quails live a long time with some of these stub toes, so it does not have any effect on their ability to get around. But you do want to avoid having this happen in the first place, and the only way to do that is to make sure their bedding is clean and thick enough to dry the droppings quickly and keep them from sticking to toes. And if you ever do discover an accretion on a toe, soak it off in warm water right away so it does not get any bigger or more dangerous.

It takes quite a bit of work to get these lumps off sometimes; I have found the best way is to fill a bowl with warm water, hold the quail with the foot hanging down, dip the foot into the water repeatedly, alternately working the toe with your fingertips (gently of course). Eventually the accretion should soften up enough to come off.

Do not try to pull the dry dropping off with your fingers, tweezers or anything else, because if it is adhered tightly to the toe, you could injure the toe while pulling at the dropping.

Another trick I have heard of is to soak a terry cloth towel so it is very damp. Put it in the bottom of your quail's cage so that he has to walk on this and nothing else (keep him extra warm while you're doing this). Simply walking on the damp towel should soften up the dropping so you can pull it off easily, hopefully within half an hour.

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I have button chicks, and their legs are spread out to the sides. What do I do?

If you aren't using this already, the chicks need to have either rubberized shelf-liner, or paper towels (preferably "Bounty"), or terry cloth toweling placed in their brooder as flooring. This is classic "splayed legs" which must be attended to immediately or else the chicks will grow up badly crippled. Usually the extra traction of the terry cloth/paper toweling fixes the problem within 24 hours (if done right away), but if you have tried this and it didn't work, you can sometimes use a little piece of string to tie their legs close together; close enough that the legs are pulled into a better position under them, but with enough slack so they can still walk. It's delicate work, but I've heard it can correct the problem when all else fails.

Please see the following page for methods to correct splay leg as well as curled-toe in chicks: Orthopedics for Poultry Made Easy for Beginners.

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I bought some buttons, and they are very scared of me. How can I tame them?

Unfortunately, with quails that are allowed to grow up "wild" (i.e. not tamed or hand-raised) they may always be uneasy around you. They are skittish nervous birds by nature, and many buttons that I had for their entire lives still were/are very nervous when I come near. The best way to try to overcome this is bribery. Buy some mealworms, and then very patiently, settle yourself down by the cage with one hand inside, holding a worm. Be perfectly still, and hold the worm out so they will be able to see it. Eventually they should become curious enough to investigate and may even take the worm from your hand right off. If not, once you are sure they have seen it, just toss it on the floor of the cage, allow them to eat it, and repeat the process. Do this as often as you have time for (but do not exceed 6 worms per day per bird) and they should become more comfortable around you very quickly, learning to eat from your hand before too long.

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