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H 79 • L 76

Chinese Button Quail

The occupants of the Purdy Butterfly House are natives, except for the Chinese Button Quail. I make this exception because the native quail species are too large for the Butterfly House and hunt the butterflies. The Chinese Button Quail is a mostly flightless bird with a maximum height of about 5 inches! Their purpose in this facility is to assist in plant pest control during the butterfly season, since I cannot spray any kind of insecticide in the Butterfly House. Butterflies and caterpillars are too sensitive to all chemicals, organic or not. In the five years that I have introduced the button quail to the Butterfly House, I have not had any of them target and hunt butterflies. Their flight aim is not that accurate. The only reason for these birds to take flight is a fear response.

I purchase and incubate quail eggs each year and raise them in a climate controlled area for a minimum of six weeks. Since the new hatchlings are about the size of a bumblebee, they are unable to regulate their body temperature. Newly hatched quail need to be kept between 90-95° for the first couple of weeks. During these first two weeks, they actually go home with me every night so they can be fed and watered every two to three hours. Entering their third week, I begin introducing live insects to stimulate their hunting instincts. After all, this is what I need them to do in the Butterfly House in just a few weeks’ time.

They will often begin reproducing in the final week before being released into the Butterfly House. I take this opportunity to collect the eggs and begin incubation again. This way, I can have one more generation under close care for the year. Within the Butterfly House, they will continue reproducing but the hatch rate is very poor. Often, the nests will go unhatched because the birds simply won’t sit on the eggs. The eggs are so small, only about one inch long by three-quarter inch wide, that to try to look for them will more often result in the nest being crushed.

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