Historical information

This specimen is part of a collection of almost 200 animal specimens that were originally acquired as skins from various institutions across Australia, including the Australian Museum in Sydney and the National Museum of Victoria (known as Museums Victoria since 1983), as well as individuals such as amateur anthropologist Reynell Eveleigh Johns between 1860-1880. These skins were then mounted by members of the Burke Museum Committee and put-on display in the formal space of the Museum’s original exhibition hall where they continue to be on display. This display of taxidermy mounts initially served to instruct visitors to the Burke Museum of the natural world around them, today it serves as an insight into the collecting habits of the 19th century.

Like many species of quail, the Brown Quail is often difficult to see, as it inhabits rank, overgrown grassy areas, often in damp, low-lying patches beside wetlands. They are difficult to flush from this cover, preferring to squat among the grass or run quickly off through the vegetation rather than fly off. As is the case with many species that inhabit dense habitats, the Brown Quail may be heard more often than it is seen, with its characteristically mournful two-note call whistle often heard at dawn and dusk.

The Brown Quail is found across northern and eastern Australia, from the Kimberley region in Western Australia to Victoria and Tasmania, as well as in south-western Australia. It is also found in Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, and has been introduced to New Zealand.

The Brown Quail feeds in the early morning or evening, on the ground, mainly on seeds and green shoots, but also on insects. In some area, quails will readily cross roads and may be seen feeding along roadsides.


This specimen is part of a significant and rare taxidermy mount collection in the Burke Museum. This collection is scientifically and culturally important for reminding us of how science continues to shape our understanding of the modern world. They demonstrate a capacity to hold evidence of how Australia’s fauna history existed in the past and are potentially important for future environmental research.

This collection continues to be on display in the Museum and has become a key part to interpreting the collecting habits of the 19th century.

Physical description

The Brown Quail is a small, plump ground-dwelling bird. It is variable in colour, ranging from red brown to grey brown with fine white streaks and black barring above, and chestnut brown below. The eye is red to yellow, the bill black and the legs and feet orange-yellow. In Tasmania, this species is called the Swamp Quail and tends to be larger and darker than mainland birds, with a pale yellow eye. Female Brown Quails are larger and may be more heavily marked with black and paler below than males. Young birds are like adult females, with less distinct markings and a dark brown eye.

Inscriptions & markings

33. / Swamp Quail / See Catalogue, page 30 /