Red-chested Button-quail At Argyle

On Saturday 30th January 1993 a small bird was found covered in mud in the main pit of the Argyle Diamond Mine.  This was just after an extended rainy period (about 125mm in the previous 48 hours) which included some gusty (but not gale force) winds and heavy cloud cover from the tropical depression that had moved across from the Northern Territory.

The bird was brought down to the medical centre where it was cleaned.  It was in a weak condition but appeared to have no physical damage.

The bird was shown to me briefly that afternoon for identification and again the next day.  It was either an immature quail or a button-quail, but not of a species that I could immediately identify.

The eyes were a distinct yellow.  The feet and legs were pinkish.  The bill was dark.  The complete throat, chest and flanks were an even orange-buff.  The overall colour was dark, but the back and wing coverts had chestnut markings.  The extended wing had two distinct coloured areas with the primaries darker.  The head was dark but it was more streaked on the side of the neck.  I measured the bill to tail length as a rough 15cm (possibly 13 to 17) with a ruler.  I extended the right wing and all feathers were fully developed with only a little wear.

I consulted my Simpson & Day field guide.  My first thought was of a Chestnut-backed Button-quail (a species not on the Argyle list yet but expected to probably occur) because of the colouring above.  However, with more thought I discounted this because of the colour underneath, the general colour overall, the head and tail colour, the size, and the bill and leg colour.

Little Button-quail are quite common, but I decided against this because of the lack of any white underneath and the general dark colour.

Red-backed Button-quail and King Quail occur in the Kimberley but are unlikely to occur at Argyle.  Their descriptions and illustrations were not close anyway.  The bird was much too small to be a Brown Quail which are very common at Argyle.

With the bird next to Simpson & Day, it looked like the female Red-chested Button-quail illustrated.  The only discrepancy was that the colour above was more distinct than the illustration in flight.

The Red-chested Button-quail was observed three times at Argyle in the wet season during the 1983 environmental survey.  It received a special mention as having only been observed six times previously in the Kimberley.  In Birds of the Kimberley Division by G.M. Storr (WA Museum 1980) it is described as possibly a drought refugee from the interior of eastern Australia, and includes a couple of records from near Fitzroy Crossing.  I also know that it has been seen fairly often in the grass plain at the back of the Broome Bird Observatory.

The bird was very docile and easy to pick up.  It was quite happy to walk around my desk, and to explore the village room of the person looking after it.  It was drinking from water provided, and ate bread and milk mashed together and bird seed provided.  The only concern was that it sometimes flew into the wall and appeared disoriented.  They were going to care for it for a few more days and then either release it in grassland near the mine, or consult CALM in Kununurra for advice.

Copyright Frank O'Connor 1997-2002 Visits Last Modified 31st January 2002