BIRD: linking the biodiversity community
Coturnix chinensis victoriae
The King Quail Coturnix chinensis also known as the Chinese Painted Quail or Asian Blue Quail is a small ground dwelling bird which has widespread distribution from India, through south eastern China, South East Asia and New Guinea to Australia. The sub species Coturnix chinensis victoriae occurs along eastern Australia from Cape York to western Victoria.
Close relitves of the the King Quail are the Stubble Quail Coturnix pectoralis and the Brown Quail Coturnix ypsilophora, which also occur in Victoria.
The King Quail is approximately 13-14 cm tall; males have distinctive markings which differentiate them from the Stubble and Brown Quail such as chestnut brown abdomen, slate blue chest, white throat with a black crescent and boarder. Females are generally dark brown above with lighter striations, underside pale with dark barring and white throat.
Most of the Victorian records are on French Island. In south-west Victoria the King Quail has a sparse distribution but usually associated with dense heathy vegetation, more intensive surveys may reveal other populations in parts of the south-west.
Habitat and ecology
The King Quail inhabits dense low vegetation, including swamps, wet heathlands, shrubland, swamp scrub, grasslands and crops such as Lucerne (Marchant & Higgins 1993, Trounson & Trounson 1996, O’Brien 2006)
It is thought that wet heath vegetation is probably at its best for the King Quail during the first 10 years post burning as the birds like space between plants for movement to avoid predators and to forage. In addition it is thought that post fire there is a rapid growth and production of seeds which is advantageous to the birds, this is usually sustained for 10 years post burn (Douglas, pers. comm. 2007). For King Quail, the density of vegetation is considered more critical than the height and species present (Marchant & Higgins 1993).
The King Quail is omnivorous, feeding on a range of food sources including grass seeds, green blades, terrestrial worms, adult larval insects, leaves, grains, fruit and nuts (Marchant & Higgins 1993, Pappas 2001).
Breeding in the wild is not well studied but is thought to be almost year round apart from the winter months. Nests are constructed on the ground and comprise grass tussocks with fine grasses used for the lining, roofed with bent over grasses. The King Quail produces 6-14 eggs at a time which are dark brown with pale brown spots, hatching occurs within 16-19 days (Macdonald 1973, Pappas 2001).
Decline and threats
Populations of King Quail are most likely confined to National Parks State Parks and other reserved areas where suitable habitat remains. There has been no statewide study of this species but there are indications from local studies that numbers are could be very low.
In its final recommendations, the Scientific Advisory Committee (1995) determined that the King Quail is:
- in a demonstrable state of decline which is likely to result in extinction
- significantly prone to future threats which are likely to result in extinction
Human activities have a major impact on this species, particularly in relation to habitat degradation, attributed by the altered drainage of wet health (eg. in Melbourne), clearing, inappropriate fire regimes (i.e., frequent burning for fire control), extended drought, land development and increased salinity (O’Brien 2006, Marchant & Higgins 1993, SAC 1995, Ingwersen, pers. comm. 2007).
Inappropriate fire regimes are a major threat to the King Quail’s available habitat, as they usually utilise burnt vegetation 18-24 months post burn (Douglas, pers. comm. 2007). If frequent burning is occurring, for example every year, this makes the habitat inhabitable for the King Quail, as they require dense low vegetation, which is ultimately opened up after a fire and exposes them to predators and reduced food availability
Predation from feral cats and foxes is a major issue because being predominately ground dwelling the King Quail has limited capacity to flee from predators, they rely on dense vegetation for cover and may fly for short bursts when disturbed.
Suggested Management Strategy
- Protection and conservation of existing populations of King Quail
- Maintaining a patchwork of recently burnt, non-burnt areas and refuge areas of dense vegetation (O’Brien pers. comm. 2007)
- Implement appropriate fire regimes for known habitat.
- Conduct research to improve understanding of King Quail habitat requirements and biology.
- Predator control and quantify the impact from foxes and cats.
- Conduct ongoing monitoring to measure population health.
Heathland management The use of fire to reinvigorate heathlands has been recommended for the Ground Parrot Pezoporus wallicus. As there is limited information available on the management of the King Quail, the management of the rare Ground Parrot (Pezoporus wallicus) in Victoria may serve as an important tool into the management of the King Quail. Both species are ground dwelling persist in heathlands and require an appropriate fire regime for suitable habitat. Studies by Meredith & Jaremovic (1990) could be used as a guide to an adequate fire regime for the King Quail.
Research needed One of the major management issues for this species in particular, is the lack of information available about wild populations of King Quail, specifically in Victoria, i.e. studies, research, monitoring into habitat preference, breeding, species distribution etc. Because the King Quail is a secretive and elusive bird, this species doesn’t attract much attention from the general public hence a reason why little is known about the wild populations.
- Douglas, M. (2007) Ranger, French Island, Parks Victoria.
- Ingwersen, D. (2007) Threatened Bird Network Coordinator - Threatened Bird Network, Birds Australia. 2 October,2007
- Macdonald, J.D. (973) Birds of Australia, A summary of Information, A.H & A. W Reed Pty Ltd, Sydney, Australia. (TWENTYONE)
- Marchant, S. Higgins, P.J. eds. (1993) Handbook of Australian, New Zealand & Antarctic Birds, Vol 2, Raptors to Lapwings, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, Australia.
- Meredith, C., Jaremovic, R. (1990) Current status and management of the Ground Parrot in Victoria, Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research, Technical Report Series No. 58, Department of Conservation, Forests & Lands, East Melbourne.
- O’Brien, M. (2006) ‘Distribution, Habitat and Status of the King Quail Coturnix chinensis victoriae in Victoria: The Importance of French Island, Western Port Bay’, Australian Field Ornithology, vol. 23, pp. 62-76.
- O’Brien, M. (2007) Wildlife Biologist - Threatened Species & Communities Section, Department of Sustainability and Environment. 17 September & 3, 9 October 2007
- Pappas, J. (2001) "Coturnix chinensis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed July 2009 (http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Coturnix_chinensis.html)
- SAC (1995) Final Recommendation on a nomination for listing: King Quail Coturnix chinensis (Nomination No. 349). Scientific Advisory Committee, Flora and Fauna Guarantee. Department of Sustainability and Environment: Melbourne.
- Trounson, D. Trounson, M. (1996) Australian Birds Simply Classified, National Book Distributors and Publishers, French Forests, New South Wales, Australia.
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