Monday, 20 July 2009

Not a cat post

One of our senior cats gave birth to a litter of three, weeks ago. The weaning process of the kittens has begun now. Indicating this, and in a bid to get our approval, she has strategically moved her babies closer to our kitchen for all to see. Yesterday, at 10.30 p.m., my mother alarmed at seeing a certain late delivery brought to the kittens. I was there in a flash to see what it was. The victim was a bird. I immediately snapped the lifeless bird placed before these hungry eyes.


To my utter surprise, it turned out to be a male Barred Buttonquail Turnix suscitator—a bird species not only new to my garden, but also new to my local area! Here’s the victim.


Buttonquails are peculiar birds in that their sex roles are reversed. The girls are generally larger and strikingly coloured; therefore, are better looking compared to the boys. They are also vociferous in their courtship rituals, and take the lead in initiating love. There is stiff intrasexual competition in the girls to win over the boys. It is the boys who are burdened with brooding and caring of the babies. The girls take female emancipation to its shocking extremes, and walk away from all parental duties after sex. And go looking for more subservient males to burden with her babies. Yes, Buttonquail females are polyandrous.

Is it all bad news for boys? Luckily no. The chicks in buttonquails are precocial meaning they can walk and run soon after birth to follow the farther to find food. So, the boys are not too stressed.


Buttonquails are secretive terrestrial birds occurring in dry grasslands and scrub jungles. They prefer to escape by walking and scurry through the low vegetation rather than flying which they do reluctantly. When they take to the air, the flight is never persisted for too long, and they quickly drop to cover almost as if been shot in the air. After that you can almost never find them again and they simply melt away!

Barred Buttonquail is widespread in the Oriental region where 18 sub-species of it are recognised. In Sri Lanka, it is represented by an endemic sub-species, leggei.

This was my first record of this species in the ‘wet zone’. I remember reading a report in Ceylon Bird Club Notes sometime ago of a sight record of this bird from Pittugala close to Malabe. This area is just about 5 km as a crow Buttonquail flies from where I live. So its occurrence in the wet zone for me was not entirely surprising. Parts of my garden are left to grow wild, and there are sections of it overrun with tall grass.

The dry zone has reached its driest phase now, which usually lasts until the onset of the North East Monsoon(which starts in October). Could there be inter-migration of Barred Buttonquails between dry and wet zone during the direst months?

Buttonquails (aka. Bustard-quails) despite their superficial resemblance to Quails are not closely related to them. They are categorised in two entirely different bird families: quails in Phasianidae together with partridges, and pheasants; and buttonquails in family of their own named, Turnicidae. Furthermore, buttonquails were traditionally included in the orders Gruiformes or Galliformes, but DNA studies have shown enough evidence that they in fact should be included in the order Charadriiformes to which shorebirds belong.

Here’s the Buttonquail slayer.

Cuckoo the senior cat
Her past avian catches include an Indian Pitta, which survived thanks to my mother's intervention.
Here's another brat.


Absence of hind toe in Buttonquails is another diagnostic that seperate them from Quails, which show this feature.

This is my contribution to My World.

Edit:
In Sri Lanka, cats are not normally kept indoors like in developed countries; instead they have a care-free semi-wild existence. I live with my parents, and the cats belong to my mother, so I have very little say on this matter. The mother-cat featured above, now, is no more. Still, we are left with two—both females. I have begun negotiations to phase 'em out ...

32 comments:

Kirigalpoththa said...

Very interesting facts and story!

Feel sorry about the bird. Especially since he is a male. Must have had a tough life.

rainfield61 said...

Very good description!!
Feeling weird why colour of eyes of both cats look different: one is in green the other is in black.

Doug Taron said...

Excellent recap of buttonquail life history. We keep a smal flock in our butterfly exhibit. They eat roaches and dead butterflies. In the latter role, they are an important component of our ant control efforts.

Stylurus said...

Very interesting, but a shame of a way to learn of bird distribution. Why aren't the cats kept indoors?

Tabib said...

Predatory instinct.
Thanks for a very detail info about this "puyuh", that I also posted the male pictures today.

spookydragonfly said...

Interesting info on the Buttonquails. It's sad what happened to your new garden guest. But I have to say, your felines rate a 10 on the cute factor! Hope they stay away from your Dragonfly pond...caught my Bandit with a Dragon in your mouth.

Harumi said...

Wow.. a very comprehensive post. And an interesting story about the birdie too, I sincerely hope it has the potential to survive.

Anyway love the pics of those adorable kitties.. though they were up to total mischief.. lol Reminds me of my senior pet cat, who's never caught a birdie yet, thankfully. But it sure knows how to control the squirrel population in the neighborhood! -__- So we've to be constantly vigilant. =D

flowergirl said...

Enjoyed your post Amila!

Buttonquails have gone up in my estimation, LOL!!

chandanie said...

Hi Amila
Enjoyed your post heaps!
Why can't some of the male button quail traits be passed on to the male Homo sapiens? Could do withsome at this end :-) lol

Gallicissa said...

Hi K,
I too pity that male...because it plays such a vital role in Buttonquail domestic affairs.

Hi rainfield,
Those eye colours are a result of my flash (Canon MT-24EX).

Hi Doug,
Nice to hear that Buttonquails help you in your control efforts in those exhibits. That is very interesting piece of information to know, thanks.

Hi Stylurus,
Cats in our part of the world are usually not contained to indoors. Instead they are left to lead carefree lives... I know it is not good news for wildlife - especially birds. Actually it is my mother who is in charge of feline affairs and I have already taken this matter up at the highest level.

Hi Tabib,
What a coincidence that you too have blogged about Barred Buttonquails! Those are good pics.

Hi Kim,
It is quite sad lose that bird in that fashion. I hope your cats are not as bad! I am trying to find a caring house for the kittens. None of the cats have shown much interest in my dragonflies so far.

Hi Harumi,
The senior cat over here has not had any luck with Squirrels yet. I think she is too interested in birds like some of the people dear to her!

Hi flowergirl,
You women!

Hi Chandanie,
Why can't? because that will be the end of civilization. Good to hear from you!

S.C.E. said...

Your cat is a killing machine....

Can you tick a dead bird?

In all my Ashes excitement I haven't noticed Sri Lanka beating Pakistan................... do they play cricket in summer (the monsoon)?

This Is My Blog - fishing guy said...

Amila: What an interesting post for your entrance into My World. Thanks for sharing the information of the catch and the quail. I look forward to many trips through your world.

mkreider said...

It's always nice to see and learn something brand new. Thank you!

hip chick said...

Very informative post. I never really thought different types of quail. I sort of assumed that they were all just quail.

Urban Cynic said...

Thank you for the comment on my blog - Brighton is indeed very gay-friendly (there's even a song about it on youtube!)

I like your blog - I love cats & the seagulls drive us bonkers here.. I'll do you a swap!

Elisabeth's bright side said...

Your pictures and story with facts was very interesting indeed. Nice to know about other gender "traditions" than the usual pattern. Do you have a special recorder to record the bird sounds? I'm trying to find some equipment that I can use without using my camera and with a better microphone. I'm puzzled I can't find anything that can record on flash cards.
Thanks for stopping by my blog and I'm certainly putting your blog on my list.
Have a nice day.

Louise said...

Very interesting! I had never seen a buttonquail, though a street in my development has that name. Those cats. One of mine is always attacking the birds. We save most of them, but not every one. But one that big would unnerve me abit.

Marites said...

That's really quite educational and really feel sorry for the bird, it sure sounds rare. I hope the cat was feeling regretful:)

Wren said...

I'm sad about the bird. Cats will be cats, and thus it's a pity you can't keep these inside.

But I've never won an argument with my mother, either - even when she professes to agree with me.

Dee said...

poor bird. interesting post. what a amazing country we live in, with all its diversity. cats are cute too :)

Gallicissa said...

Hi Stu,
Sadly, the senior cat knows that!

Can you tick a dead bird?
I think you can. Dead specimens of vagrants do get added to country lists. Don’t they?

The Test matches started at the tail-end of a monsoonal high (and after my monsoon birding tour).

Hi Tom,
Thank you for inviting me to play My world – I like it.

Hi mkreider,
Buttonquail domestic affairs are very strange.

Hi hip chick,
There are 16 species of Buttonquails alone.

Hi Urban Cynic,
I’ve seen what the English sea gulls are capable of, during my trip to England. So, I will keep the cats, thank you!

Hi Elisebeth,
I use a Seinnheiser ME66 shotgun as my (external) mike (since 2003) and my recorder at present is Editrol R09HR (records to SD or SDHC memory cards). This combo is pretty good for bird and wildlife sound recording and I can recommend them if you are keen.

Hi Louise,
That’s a nice name for a street. It’s the senior cat who is the trouble maker.

Hi Marites,
No, she was rude to me.

Hi Wren,
Keep them indoors is as difficult as winning an argument with my mother. She now argues that if not for the senior cat, I would have not known the occurrence of this bird in the yard. I am embarassed.

Hi Dee,
The kittens are very cute indeed. Please tell me if you know any cat person close to CMB who'd like them delivered free of charge. It’s a limited time offer.

Vickie said...

Interesting info about this quail species. I always like to see the feet. I know that sounds funny, but when trying to draw a bird, its very seldom that you get a good view or image of the feet. Beautiful kittens. You have some challenges ahead with your yard birds.

Glennis said...

Interesting catch your cat made, what a pity you were not able to rescue the buttonquail before he breathed his last.
But it has meant you were able to examine the bird closely and now know they are around in your neighbourhood.

Chriss said...

It was sad that the bird died, but description of it's mating habits had me laughing over here. Fantastic description!

Kevin Purcell said...

Someone asks (and Gallicissa says yes): Can you tick a dead bird?

In most places for most birders, clubs and associations the answer is "No, you can't count a dead bird on your lists".

If you are compiling a district or country census for reference (say of all birds found in an region) then I'd add it to that census (clearly its out there you just haven't seen it yet!) but I wouldn't count it for a birders list as "seen" species.

I think most associations, clubs and national groups don't permit dead birds on a list.

Of course this leads to interesting "edge cases": was the bird still alive when you first saw it with the cat? Was it alive when you IDed it?

The same is true for example for a bird that flies into a window or hits a car and is killed.

Ultimately its down to the birder but if you share lists or counts with others then it shouldn't count.

Happy Birding!
Kevin

Kirigalpoththa said...

Hi,
I mentioned some of your comments in my latest post . Hope you don’t mind. BTW thanks for all the information. :)

Gallicissa said...

Hi Vickie,
That does sound funny but I can quite well understand it why you do it. I can imagine how you may feel when somebody comments “the feet don't look right” after taking lot of effort to do otherwise a perfect drawing of a bird.

I am already in dialogue with the authorities to seek a speedy resolution to this urgent matter.

Hi Glennis,
It was sad that we couldn’t do anything to save its life. It is a very good record for my local area/home garden.

Hi Chriss,
Girls rule in this bird species. No wonder you are laughing!

Hi Kevin,
My answering “yes” to that query by S.C.E (Stu) was based on what I wrote in my post that the bird in question turned out to be “not only new to my garden but also new to my local area”.

So, would I count a dead bird in my local area and yard lists, (which are lists dedicated for a particular territory)?
Yes.

This is based on ‘solid’ evidence that the species in question occurs in that area despite me not finding it alive.

Would I add it to my life bird list (comprising of birds “seen”) if I had not seen it previously (if this is what Stu meant)?
No. Perhaps I should have grasped his question clearly.

Thank you for your insights.

Hi again K,
No worries!

oldcrow61 said...

Really interesting information about the bird. The cats are beautiful. As terrible as it was I guess mom was just heeding the call of nature and catching food for the children.

Kirigalpoththa said...

Thanks Amila :)

cherie said...

hi, i blog-hopped and saw this interesting site. i am new to the intricacies of nature, but some interprising bird built a nest at the corner of my windowsill and it now has 4 eggs in it. hmmm, makes me think i'm being steered to the right direction, blog-wise! thanks for all this information! hope you don't mind my hopping over once in a while!

Gallicissa said...

Hi OC,
Good to hear from another cat person. Yep, the mom was following her instincts.

Hi Cherie,
I hope the chicks have come out of the eggs and the mother bird is busy with them now. You are welcome to come over here anytime.

Dee said...

aww A, I'd love the kitty, but my mother is totally agaisnt it. :(

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