Elusive Yellow-legged Buttonquail spotted in Mumbai

The petite bird was spotted on two separate occasions last week; one of the buttonquails was rescued while the other one was found dead

Bird watchers in the city have an equal reason to rejoice and lament the rare sightings of the usually reticent Yellow-legged Buttonquail. Last week, the bird was spotted on two separate occasions in Andheri (West). However, while one of the quails has been rescued, the other was found dead.

The Thane FD is conducting an examination on the bird, after which it will be let out into the wild. Pics/Prabhu Swami
The Thane FD is conducting an examination on the bird, after which it will be let out into the wild. Pics/Prabhu Swami

Nevertheless, the recent sightings of the bird in Mumbai have taken the forest department and bird experts by surprise. The bird has been sighted only twice or thrice in the past 15 years in and around the city.

Rescuing the tiny bird
On September 29, Prabhu Rajkumar Swami, naturalist and in-charge of the pet section at Bhavans Nature and Adventure Center (BNAC), received a call regarding the sighting of a tiny bird that crows were trying to attack near the Hansraj Morarji School, adjacent to Bhavan’s College in Andheri (West).

Swami immediately asked the caller to safely rescue the bird and bring it to him so that it could be saved. Swami said, “One of the workers safely rescued the bird and brought it to BNAC. When I first saw the bird, I could not recognise which species it was and so I immediately clicked a few pictures of its and forwarded it to bird expert Adesh Shivkar. He confirmed to me that it was a Yellow-legged Buttonquail.”

Swami later informed the territorial range of the Thane Forest Department (FD) since Mumbai city falls under their jurisdiction. The pictures of the bird were also sent to the Thane FD whose officials were happy to see the rare bird. On September 30, the bird was safely taken to the Thane FD office and was handed over to forest officials.

A medical examination of the bird would be conducted to ascertain its injury and fitness. Chief Conservator of Forest Thane K P Singh said, “The yellow legged buttonquail that was rescued from Andheri has been handed over to us and we have kept the bird under observation. It would be released back into its natural habitat soon.”

Another spotting
On October 1, nature lover Niraj Gawand also found a dead specimen of a female yellow-legged buttonquail near Bhavans College after which he immediately informed the forest department. According to forest department officials, the exact reason behind the bird’s death is not clear but there are chances that it might have died after being attacked by crows and kites.

It is important to note that there is a huge demand for the meat of quails and they are killed illegally for the same. The Yellow-legged Buttonquail is not a threatened species, but due to its taciturn behavior it is extremely difficult to spot the bird. This is the main reason why there have been very few sightings of this species of buttonquail in Mumbai and in Maharashtra.

The Yellow-legged Buttonquail
The Yellow-legged Buttonquail (Turnix tanki) is a member of a small family of birds, which resemble but are unrelated to, the true quails. They are endemic to the Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia. This family is peculiar in that the females are more colourful than the males and are polyandrous.

Females have a bright redish-brown nape collar, which is moulted during the non-breeding season. They offer food to males during courtship and once the eggs are laid, the females leave their incubation up to the males. The eggs hatch after about 12 days in captivity and the chicks follow the male after hatching.

Expert speak
Speaking to mid-day, bird expert Adesh Shivkar said, “The Yellow-legged Buttonquail is distributed in most of the Indian Subcontinent and in South-east Asia. However, it is a rarely encountered species in the wild. In and around Mumbai, it has been sighted very rarely; twice or thrice in the past.

It is mostly considered as a resident species, but it moves locally depending upon the season. The two recent sightings in Mumbai indicate that this species is migrating to Mumbai. Even so, some of these birds get trapped in the city habitat and are found injured or exhausted.”

He added, “Over the years, this species, like any other species of quails, has been persecuted for its meat, which is considered a delicacy. Thus, along with its habitat destruction in the grasslands, the bird’s numbers have declined rapidly. Understanding the movements and habitat requirements therefore becomes very critical in order for the species to survive.”

15-18 cm
Average size of a Yellow- legged Buttonquail

35-75 grams
Average weight of a male buttonquail

93-113 grams
Average weight of a female buttonquail

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