Elusive and mysterious: The quest to capture the first photo of the buff-breasted button quail, Australia’s most elusive bird

The elusive nature of the buff-breasted button quail has made it one of the most intriguing and mysterious birds in Australia. With a century-long absence of photographs, the quest to capture the first image of this elusive bird has captured the attention of ornithologists and bird enthusiasts alike. Let’s delve into the mystique surrounding the buff-breasted button quail and the tireless efforts to shed light on this enigmatic species.

A Century of Mystery

For decades, the buff-breasted button quail has remained hidden from the prying eyes of birdwatchers and researchers, echoing the enigmatic status of the night parrot, another elusive Australian bird. The last confirmed sighting of the buff-breasted button quail dates back to an expedition led by the legendary naturalist William McLennan in February 1922. Subsequently, the bird has evaded photographic documentation, contributing to its elusive reputation.

The Cryptic Nature of the Buff-Breasted Button Quail

Button quails, belonging to a small family of ground-dwelling, polyandrous species, are known for their secretive behavior. The buffalo quail, scientifically referred to as Turnix olivii, resides in grasslands, exhibiting a cryptic and elusive demeanor. Unlike their more conspicuous avian counterparts, button quails seldom take to the skies and are rarely encountered in the wild. Despite its intriguing status, the buffalo quail has not garnered widespread attention, as evidenced by its exclusion from the longlist for Guardian Australia’s 2023 bird of the year poll. Its inconspicuous presence and elusive nature have relegated it to the periphery of bird enthusiasts’ radar, adding to the allure of uncovering its secrets.
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The Journey to Uncover the Elusive Quail

The quest to study and document the buff-breasted button quail took a significant leap when graduate student Patrick Webster expressed his passion for delving into the mysteries surrounding this elusive bird. Collaborating with James Watson, a leader at the Research and Recovery of Endangered Species (Rares) team from the University of Queensland, Webster embarked on a mission to unravel the secrets of the enigmatic buffalo quail. Over the course of four years, Webster and Watson traversed the challenging terrain of Cape York, enduring the relentless humidity of the early wet season in pursuit of the elusive bird. Their exhaustive efforts mirrored the dedication and perseverance required to unravel the mysteries of Australia’s most elusive bird.

Unreliable Memoirs and Red Flags

The pursuit of the buff-breasted button quail was fraught with challenges and uncertainties. Observations of large button quails initially sparked hope, only to be dashed when the birds were identified as the closely related painted button quail, a more common and widespread species. This led to a critical realization, prompting a shift in approach and the exploration of other related species in the region. The journey to uncover the secrets of the buffalo quail involved overcoming unreliable memories, false sightings, and the need to adapt research strategies to navigate through the complexities of bird identification. Despite the setbacks, the unwavering dedication of the researchers fueled their resolve to press forward in their quest to demystify the enigmatic bird.


The buff-breasted button quail stands as a testament to the profound allure and mystery that envelop elusive species. The relentless pursuit to capture the first photograph of this elusive bird serves as a poignant reminder of the profound impact of curiosity, dedication, and unwavering perseverance in the realm of ornithology. As researchers continue their quest to unravel the mysteries shrouding the buffalo quail, the enigmatic allure of this elusive bird continues to captivate the imagination of bird enthusiasts and scientists alike.
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This article is based on information provided by www.theguardian.com.


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