Case Study: Hand-rearing a Barred Buttonquail (Turnix suscitator) fledgling

Devna Arora

Devna Arora - Barred Buttonquail Fledgling

This little buttonquail (Turnix suscitator) fledgling was found one morning in someone’s society in Feb 2014 – Pune, India. Attempts at reuniting the baby seemed futile since the baby was found in the city, a fair distance from any decent grass/scrubland (apart from one isolated patch nearby) and the lil’ one was taken in for hand-rearing and subsequent release.

Condition on admission

The baby bird was small, her (unsexed) body was slightly smaller than a tennis ball but she was taller if you included her legs. Wings were slightly held out much like any other fledgling and at most times, esp. when she fluffed up, the tips of her primaries would stand out distinctly.

The right wing, although absolutely functional, had suffered a mild injury or trauma as the primaries of the right wing were always a little protruded in comparison to the left wing (as seen in the pic below) – this significantly reduced over time. They were perhaps also distinctly visible due to a lack of coverts in the same patch. The right wing was also held slightly apart for the first few days (as seen in the pic when the bird is sitting in the nest box). No veterinary intervention was required as both the wing and the bird were fine otherwise.

Devna Arora - Barred Buttonquail wing with minor injury

Housing and flooring

Devna Arora - Using a capeted base when housing buttonquail indoors

Devna Arora - Using a capeted base when housing buttonquail indoors

This baby was hand-reared at home so the very first thing I did was to make an enclosure for her with a carpeted bottom so her feet don’t splay on smooth/tiled surface. I used thick Turkish towels to line the enclosure and put potted plants all around for cover. Rugs or carpets will also serve the purpose just fine but the towels were easier to maintain – washed once in every 5 days to maintain hygiene. The enclosure was filled with potted plants and divided by curtains to ensure she retains her instincts of moving in cover. I also gave her a nest-box to sleep in and kept that on the floor – the box again was lined with a thick towel and I placed a small soft toy in her box upon which she slept for the first two nights.

Devna Arora - Barred buttonquail enclosure with plants

Devna Arora - Barred buttonquail nest box with a ball of wool

On the third day I placed a ball of wool (brown coloured) in her box and from then on I’d always see her sleeping next to that ball of wool. Perhaps it simulated the presence of other smaller birds of her size.

Devna Arora - Barred buttonquail enclosure with plants

Her enclosure was next to the window so she could benefit from natural sunlight and watch the birds outside. She enjoyed watching the smaller birds and was always more active in their presence but was never too happy with the more boisterous pigeons or babblers.


Although it was Feb, there was a cold spell when she was rescued so for the first week when it was really chilly at night, I’d place a hot-water bottle over the basket, i.e., over her nesting box, at around midnight every night for a week and cover the bottle with a couple of layers of cloth. This ensured that the basket remain just warm and comfortable through the night. The hot-water bottle was discontinued as soon as the weather was warmer.


On average, she ate every hour from sunrise to sundown. Her primary diet was about a teaspoon of millet seeds and a measured ½ teaspoon of dried mealworms every day. She also enjoyed mashed boiled egg, halved peas (just the small, sweet ones) and fresh coriander, including the flower-heads of coriander which she liked. She also occasionally consumed a bit of sesame seeds and perhaps also some grain (I always ensured she have a variety of grain and seed to choose from) but I could not quantify or assess that. Sprouted mung beans were also given to her a few times but she never appeared to consume any.

Devna Arora - Tray of mixed grains, seed and mealworms

Devna Arora - Tray of fresh foods for buttonquails

In addition to the seed and dried meal worms, I ensured she gets at least one serving of fresh green leafy vegetable and one other vegetable every day – they were consumed selectively. Grated apples and grapes were also offered but never consumed. I expect that they will enjoy other smaller seeds and seed mixes as their diet is primarily seeds of grasses.

Water: Fresh, clean drinking water, offered in shallow bowls, must be available for them at all times, more so when offering a dry diet.


Devna Arora - Barred buttonquail droppings – when on a diet of seed

Devna Arora - Barred buttonquail droppings – when on a diet of seed

Droppings were primarily as above when on a diet of seed and fresh vegetables. I would also see the blackish droppings which looked like the ones below – this appeared to be in response to consumption of animal protein, i.e., boiled eggs and dried mealworms in her case. This is the primary reason I would ration her intake of mealworms. When given the choice, she selectively only consumed mealworms but keeping her droppings in mind, I wasn’t sure if that was ideal for her and decided to ration her intake of mealworms to ½ a teaspoon of mealworms a day: ¼ teaspoon in the morning and ¼ teaspoon in the afternoon.

Devna Arora - Barred buttonquail droppings – after consuming animal protein

Activity pattern

She was active during the day with a dip in activity when the sun was at its peak. She would go into her nest box by sunset and would become very uneasy if anyone was around her at that moment – she needed to return to her resting space without anyone watching her.


She was shy and weaker initially but grew stronger, bold and a lot more active and restless over the days. Whereas she would barely lift a meter into the air upon being started (accidental, not intentional) in the first couple of days, she started lifting to the height of the room and flying a good stretch all around the room after the first week.

I spooked her intentionally once after 10 days to test her flight – her take-off was smooth and effortless and all body reactions were well-composed rather than panicked.

Released was therefore planned in the following week and she was released to a scrubland outside the city where buttonquail are frequently seen. She was released early in the morning, post breakfast.

Additional notes and considerations

Babies do not require to be handfed unless they are weak. Baby quail readily pick up food scattered in front of them. Younger babies, would I suspect, need to be on softer foods. Higher proportions of mashed boiled egg seem appropriate for them. As they grow, they will shift to dry seed.


Devna Arora - Barred buttonquail nearing release

I thank Hemant Kumar for picking up this teeny bird and for brining over a much appreciated can of dried mealworms for her. Thanks Hemant!

Thanks Corina for being in touch with tips and suggestions, as always! You always respond to my distress calls before the next heartbeat. Bless you!


Bird Care – Quail. Available from: [Accessed: 13/02/2014]

Bush, K. and Bush, D. (No date) – Buttonquail information. Available from:[Accessed: 13/02/2014]

EOL (No date) Barred buttonquail. Available from: [Accessed: 13/02/2014]

Feathered obsessions (2014) Buttonquail care. Available from:[Accessed: 13/02/2014]

Landry, G. P. (1977) Raising the Young. Available from:[Accessed: 13/02/2014]

Petco (2012) Buttonquail care sheet. Available from: [Accessed: 13/02/2014]

Thingy-n-stuff (No date) Guide to raising and incubating buttonquail.
Available from: [Accessed: 13/02/2014]

Case Study published in 2014.

First and foremost: if the animal is injured, it would be very obvious but is the animal truly orphaned? Please ensure if the animal is truly orphaned and not receiving parental care before you decide to pick it and take it home.

The second step would be to reach the animal to a rehabilitator or rescue center. If you are unaware of any in your vicinity, you will be able to get guidance from your local veterinarian, zoo or forest department.

This is not an uncommon situation to find yourself in. Although there are innumerable rescue centers and rehabilitators around, there may be times when there are none in your vicinity or you are unable to reach anyone in time for help. It may be best to prepare yourself to care for the animal in such an instance.

Much information on many topics and species is readily available online. Try to narrow down some pieces of information you can work with for a start. Also, get in touch with rescue centers or rehabilitators via phone or internet. Exchange digital photographs where necessary – it barely takes a few minutes. Even if unable to help you directly in person, any person or center will surely be willing to guide you through the care of the animal and help you in choosing an appropriate protocol for its care and rehabilitation.

It is a common myth that any baby (or adult) bird or mammal that has been touched by human hands will be killed by the rest of its group. This belief has most strongly been associated with baby birds, making people extremely reluctant to pick up and leave babies back in their nest even when the parents are around.

Over innumerable years, we have reunited many youngsters successfully, and inevitably, they have all been handled by human hands for several hours or days before being reunited. The key factor in the acceptance of the animal by the parent and other group members seems not to be the smell of human touch on the animal, but the actual process of reuniting.

A common mistake that most people make while attempting to reunite an animal is that they linger on too close and in turn, frighten the parents away. When trying to place an animal back in its nest, you must always keep a safe distance from the nest and the rest of the group so as not to scare them away. It is easy to get impatient and want to return to the animal after short intervals, but you must refrain from doing so, rather, observe from a distance. Success is more likely than not. I can hardly believe any parent would refuse to accept its own child just because a ‘human’ has touched it!

Some people have suggested the use of gloves to prevent direct contact with the animal. Although you may not always have gloves on you when you need to handle an animal and it isn’t completely necessary to have them when handling a rescue, you may choose to use them if you prefer to.

Yes, in all probability. But, no animal can be simply picked from captivity and released – that is when they will not survive. Animals need to go through a period of rehabilitation before they can be release. The technique and timeframe of rehabilitation will depend upon the species and individual in concern. Guidance on rehabilitating your animal can be sought from an experienced rehabilitator.

Wild animals belong in their natural habitats. Their true glory and happiness can only ever be seen in nature. As much as the babies will be attached to you and need you when they are young, they will soon outgrow their dependence on you and their heart will yearn to be outside, in the wild – where they belong.

Rather than waiting too long and releasing an animal that is not completely prepared, it is wise to plan the release, rehabilitate the animal and release a strong and prepared animal that will surely be able to survive in the wild.

If you truly love them and want what’s really best for them, I trust you will do what is best for your little one.

You can work with any species you are more comfortable with or all species that you come across. Often, we just work with animals as they come along but if you don’t feel particularly confident with any species, it might be better to transfer it to someone more confident. If you prefer to work with a certain species and feel your hands are better adapted for that species, you may specialize in it – its’ your call.

It takes lots of time, deep commitment and a genuine interest in the wellbeing of another animal’s life to enter the field of wildlife rehabilitation. Experience and knowledge are paramount as there are many that cannot be written or explained to you but those that you will learn through your own experience. Wildlife rehabilitation is a painstaking and time consuming task requiring your complete dedication and lots of sacrifices.

In a nutshell, the following are the basic qualities required to be a rehabilitator:

1. Genuine interest and concern

2. Dedication and sacrifice

3. Commitment to work in the best interest of the animal

4. Willingness to learn

5. Willingness to ask and look for help

6. Willingness to go the extra mile

7. Willingness to let go at the time of release

Many small animals, esp. urban species, can be rehabilitated and released from home as long as they have a natural distribution around your home. Many of these animals come back for visits until they are completely independent but sometimes for longer as they are closely bonded to the caregivers. Often, the animals may completely cease to return after release or some days after release. Although this seems disappointing, it a good sign demonstrating that the animal is completely independent and capable of surviving on its own without any assistance from you.

As rehabbers, our aim is always make the animal independent so it doesn’t feel the need to keep returning.

Yes, we can definitely attempt to help every animal that needs our help. But unfortunately, we may not always be able to cure every animal and restore it to its desired health status. As rescue workers, we come across a disproportionately disadvantaged population of animals, some of which are beyond human help. There may be times when it is in the best interest of the animal to euthanize it. But it is our duty and responsibility to make an informed choice and always work for the betterment and highest quality of life for the animal in concern.

Euthanasia, commonly known as ‘mercy killing’, is the act of killing someone to relieve it from unbearable and incurable suffering. Needless to say, euthanasia is always the very last resort after all other means to help the animal have failed and purely done to relieve an animal of unbearable pain and suffering. Euthanasia can be easily carried out by a veterinarian by means of an injectable drug – a quick and painless process. Your veterinarian will be able to advise you on the same. Ensure you have the appropriate permission to do so when dealing with protected species.