Fynbos Buttonquail Turnix hottentottus


Justification of Red List Category
This newly-split buttonquail has been listed as Endangered as its population is estimated to be very small, with all subpopulations likely to be tiny, and is inferred to be in decline owing to on-going habitat loss and degradation. Recent population density estimates suggest that the population could be higher than previously thought, and confirmation of these estimates would make this species eligible for possible downlisting in the future.

Population justification
A 1994 survey resulted in an estimate of c.310-480 birds, or 0.021-0.036 birds/ha, in 25 km2 of montane fynbos habitat in the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve (Ryan and Hockey 1995, Lee 2013). The lack of records suggest that this may be an overestimate, and extrapolation of a much lower density estimate of 0.004 birds/ha from a 1990 study would result in a total population across the Western Cape of just 400 birds (Fraser 1990, Lee 2013). Further survey work has, however, again suggested density figures around 0.03 birds/ha (A. Lee in litt. 2016). Confirmation of this would require the population estimate to be increased in the future, but it is currently precautionarily left within the band 250-999 mature individuals, with no more than 250 individuals in the largest subpopulation.

Trend justification
The population is inferred to be in decline owing to on-going habitat loss and degradation (Barnes 2000, Madge and McGowan 2002).

Distribution and population

Turnix hottentottus, as defined following the split of T. nana, is found in the Western Cape province of southern South Africa, where there are records from the west coast and from Cape Town east to the border with the Eastern Cape (Peacock 2015). It had previously been recorded as far east as Port Elizabeth, but recently there have been no records (Allan and Colahan 1997). It inhabits mountain fynbos and coastal strandveld (Barnes 2000, Madge and McGowan 2002), and is elusive and poorly-known, making it challenging to determine population size and trends.


This species is usually solitary, but can be found in pairs during the breeding season (Lee 2013). Occurs in mountain fynbos where it prefers low, relatively sparse restionaceous vegetation and may depart an area when the vegetation becomes too dense, possibly leading to local movements that track fire cycles (Madge and McGowan 2002). Also found in coastal strandveld, in similarly structured habitat (Barnes 2000, Madge and McGowan 2002). Recorded nesting in September-December (Madge and McGowan 2002, Peacock 2015).


Although mountain fynbos habitat is generally better protected than that in the lowlands, potential threats include an increase (or suppression) in fire frequency, commercial afforestation, the spread of invasive plants, and agricultural and urban expansion. Climate change may prove to be an issue for this species given its restricted biome, but the potential impacts have not fully been explored yet (Simmons et al. 2014).

Conservation actions

Conservation and research actions underway
This species was the target of a major survey by BirdLife South Africa and University of Cape Town.

Conservation and research actions proposed
Survey sites with historical records to obtain density estimates throughout its range to better estimate the total population. Evaluate threats to species and its habitat. Lobby for urgent protection for unprotected sites with recent records. Produce a Population and Habitat Viability Assessment and a Biodiversity Management Plan, with a view to producing a National Species Recovery Plan (Peacock 2015).


14-16 cm. A typical small, dumpy Turnix buttonquail with very short tail and short, round-tipped wings. Broadly barred or black-spotted on breast and flanks and upperparts dark brown barred black. Similar spp. T. nana has unspotted underparts below breast in male, and almost entirely unspotted underparts in the female. Also has the lower back and rump almost black, contrasting with the rest of the upperparts. Small Buttonquail T. sylvatica has a pale central crown stripe and is generally more scalloped above. Voice. A low "hoom hoom hoom" with very little pause between notes.


Text account compilers
Taylor, J., Westrip, J., Khwaja, N., Butchart, S., Martin, R., Ekstrom, J., Symes, A.

Lee, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Species factsheet: Turnix hottentottus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 28/10/2021. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2021) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 28/10/2021.