Black-breasted Buttonquail Turnix melanogaster


Justification of Red List Category

This species has a small range and is inferred to be undergoing ongoing declines owing to the impacts of forest loss and introduced predators. However, it is not yet thought to be restricted to a very small number of locations, and although its range has undoubtedly undergone fragmentation, it is no longer believed to be severely fragmented. It has therefore been downlisted to Near Threatened.

Population justification
The present population is thought to number c.5,000 mature individuals, roughly equivalent to 7,500 individuals in total.

Trend justification
This species is suspected to be declining owing to significant forest loss within its small range, and the effects of introduced predators. The likely rate of decline, however, has not been estimated.

Distribution and population

Turnix melanogaster is found in Queensland, from Marlborough to the New South Wales border and up to 300 km inland, and New South Wales, Australia. However, it now survives at a much reduced density, particularly in the Dawson and Fitzroy River catchments, and in northern New South Wales. The population may number as few as c.5,000 mature individuals, and subpopulations may be largely isolated. Its area of occupancy is estimated to be 750 km2 (Garnett and Crowley 2000, Garnett et al. 2011). The largest subpopulations occur in the semi-evergreen vine thickets of the Yarraman district and in Great Sandy National Park (both Cooloola and Fraser Island sections) (M. Mathieson in litt. 2007).


In Queensland, it is found in closed canopy rainforest with a rainfall of 800-1,200 mm and a deep litter layer. It also occurs in softwood scrubs in the brigalow belt, vine scrub regrowth and early mature to mature hoop pine Araucaria cunninghamii plantations, especially where a shrubby understorey is present. In New South Wales, it occurs in wetter subtropical rainforest, often in association with moist eucalypt forest. In littoral areas, the species inhabits dry vine scrubs, acacia thickets and areas densely covered in shrubs, particularly midgen berry Austromyrtus dulcis (M. Mathieson in litt. 2007). Its diet comprises mainly invertebrates from the forest floor and possibly seeds. Adults are sedentary, although females tend to roam more widely during the breeding season as a result of this species's polyandrous breeding system (M. Mathieson in litt. 2007).


Historically at least 90% of its habitat was cleared for agriculture or plantations of hoop pine Araucaria  cunninghamii. This undoubtedly contributed greatly to the local extinction from most of the Dawson River valley, however now almost all lands currently occupied are under state control and most are conserved. Timber harvesting throughout this species's range is also a threat. Surviving populations in vine thickets are affected by grazing and disturbance by cattle, horses, feral pigs and wallabies, which have increased as a result of partial clearing. Such disturbance has its greatest impact during droughts when the habitat, particularly the leaf-litter, is susceptible to fire. It is threatened by introduced predators including feral cats and foxes, and possibly the invasive Cane Toad in a small percentage of its range (Beckmann and Shine 2012).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
Management actions completed or underway include surveys in Queensland (excluding Fraser Island), and research to determine habitat use, particularly of A. cunninghamii plantations and adjacent remnants of native vine thicket.

Conservation Actions Proposed
Confirm size and distribution of Yarraman and Great Sandy populations. Determine status of remaining populations in New South Wales. Survey possible habitat before timber harvesting, licensing clearing, burning, roading and grazing. Develop a standard monitoring technique. Determine the impact of fox and cat predation, particularly in small fragments. Determine the extent of movement between habitat patches. Rehabilitate and consolidate habitat fragments. Ensure appropriate conservation management of all remaining breeding habitat, including protection from clearing, burning, timber harvesting, roading and grazing.


16-19 cm. Large, plump, pale-eyed buttonquail. Adult male predominantly white face and throat. Brownish-grey upperparts, barred rufous-brown and black with white streaks. Coarsely spotted, black and white breast. Adult female, like male except head predominantly black with some fine white spots forming supercilium. Female larger than male. Immature birds similar to adult male although a little less boldly marked. Similar spp. Female distinctive. Male distinguished from Painted Buttonquail T. varia by darker upperparts and black on breast. Voice Female, booming and whistles. Male, rapid high-pitched notes, staccato calls and clucking. Hints Distinctive, circular feeding scrapes (platelets) indicate the possible presence of this species. Note the sympatric Painted Buttonquail also makes such feeding marks.


Text account compilers
Garnett, S., McClellan, R., Pilgrim, J., Stattersfield, A., Symes, A., Taylor, J. & North, A.

Mathieson, M. & Smith, G.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Turnix melanogaster. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 24/09/2020. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2020) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 24/09/2020.