Often the first sign that a Painted Button-quail is present in a dry, open forest is not a sighting of the bird, nor hearing its call, but a shallow depression of bare soil among the leaf litter. These bare patches, round and about 15 centimetres across, are called platelets. Painted Button-quails forage for seeds and insects on the ground by spinning about on alternate legs to expose items of food among the leaves and on the soil surface, and it is this action that forms the platelets.
The female is the larger and more coloured of these small, plump, well-camouflaged ground-dwellers. The overall colouration is grey, with large white spots on the breast which fade to off-white around the legs and vent. The face has small black-edged white spots with a white eyebrow. The wings and back of the female are mostly chestnut, with white spots and black, white-edged bars on the wing. The male is similar but the chestnut colour is replaced with buff.
A booming call similar to a Common Bronzewing, is used in courtship and between pairs that have lost contact while foraging. Bird call recorded by: Marc Anderson
These birds range almost continuously, in appropriate habitat, from about the Atherton Tableland in Qld, round the coast to the Eyre Peninsula and north to the southern Flinders Ranges in SA, avoiding only the driest regions of Qld and NSW. A second population occurs in southwestern WA up to Shark Bay. They also occur in Tasmania and on all the larger, coastal islands.
Temperate and eastern tropical forests and woodlands form the habitats of this species. They appear to prefer closed canopies with some understory and deep leaf litter on the ground.
Painted Button-quails create distinctive “soup-plate” depressions when foraging, by spinning alternately on either leg and using the other to scrape away the leaf litter, leaving circular depressions in which they look for food.
Painted Button-quail are active during the evening, night and early morning, feeding on the ground. They are usually seen in pairs or small family parties, searching for seeds, fruit, leaves and insects.
While not much is known, the indications are that the female is polyandrous, that is, she courts a male, mates and lays his clutch of eggs, then leaves him and searches for a second male to repeat the process. Females in captivity have had 3-4 mates and clutches in a breeding season. The female builds a domed nest of leaves, sticks and grasses beneath a tussock of grass, or at the foot of a rock or sapling, and lays 3-4 eggs at a 2-3 day laying interval between each egg. The male incubates the eggs once the clutch is complete, and all the eggs hatch at the same time. The chicks leave the nest immediately and are only fed by the male for 7-10 days. The chicks can fly 10 days after leaving the nest.