Button Quail and Feather Picking / Plucking

When I raised these guys in the past, I never had a problem with picking/plucking. However, I’ve been told by other breeders that this is very common and that they all button quail pluck other button quail.  One thing that everyone seems to agree on is that feather picking is caused by STRESS!

If picking is noticed, immediate steps must be taken to correct  it as it spreads like a disease and eventually all the birds will make a habit of trying to pluck their cage-mates.

At around 2 weeks of age, I noticed my current batch of button babies were missing some feathers. I was surprised as the birds were in a roomy cage and not at all over-crowded. I began to watch them for awhile and narrowed it down to two culprits.  A white button and a silver. I caught these two and put them in the same separate cage.

The solution many breeders implement is to “de-beak” the birds but clipping off part of the top of their beak. While that might solve the problem, it seems cruel and doesn’t address the underlying cause of the behavior.

I then did some thinking. I have rescued alot of birds in my life and feather picking seems to be related to three factors. Light, diet and boredom.  I thought the boredom and diet were likely the cause.

Changes I made to the cages:

  • a handful of oxbow botanical hay in each cage daily (this is intended for rabbits but the buttons LOVE it! Quail have a natural affinity for grass. They nest in it, catch bugs in it and eat seeds from it.
  • Added some colored blocks and small balls, empty toilet paper rolls and millet to each cage.

Out of these things the hay actually appears to be the most important. I stopped giving the hay for a week and the picking started back up so I started adding the hay. It is also worth noting that the botanical hay has herbs known for a calming effect such as lavender, chamomile and lemon balm, along with timothy hay. Along with the hay addition I also plan to add more insects to their diet, some seed for them to forage for and some organic greens for some diet variety and some phyto-nutrients that just can’t be provided in pellet form.

It is interesting to note that the two original  offenders who were doing most if not all the plucking do not pluck each other and are still happily cohabitating. I believe both are male and it is indeed more common for male buttons to pluck other birds more than females. Enrichment may not stop all picking completely but it definitely seems to lessen it.

UPDATE: 12/28/14:

Of note, so far the second batch of button quail is NOT picking at each other so another possible variable is the lightbulb color. In the past I only used red bulbs but one of the breeders who I purchased eggs from uses white bulbs without issue, so I used a white bulb since I had one on hand. The second batch of babies, I used a red bulb wondering if the white bulb might have had an impact…I will have to raise a few more batches of babies to see if picking crops up at all with the red bulb but this might be why I had never seen the problem before.

It is also worth noting that now that the first batch of six week old buttons have been split out into pairs and a “bachelor” group that the feathers are growing back in on all birds 🙂

button quail at 2 weeks old
Pennsylvania button quail at 2 weeks old

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