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the web of life in southern Africa

Coturnix delegorguei (Harlequin quail) 

Bontkwartel [Afrikaans]; isiGwaca (generic term for quail) [Zulu]; Erurumbe (generic term for quail) [Kwangali]; Huta (generic name for quail) [Shona]; Dzurhini, N'hwarixigwaqa, Xigwatla [Tsonga]; Tshosabannę (generic term for quail) [Tswana]; Harlekijnkwartel [Dutch]; Caille arlequin [French]; Harlekinwachtel [German]; Codorniz-arlequim [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Galliformes > Family: Phasianidae

Coturnix delegorguei (Harlequin quail)  Coturnix delegorguei (Harlequin quail) 

Harlequin quail, South Africa. [photo Callie de Wet ©]

Harlequin quail. [photo Johann du Preez ©]


Male at rest is easily distinguished from the Blue and Common quails by the chestnut and black underparts. It also differs from the similarly dark-coloured male Blue quail in having a white eyebrow stripe. Female looks similar to the female Common quail but has darker chestnut-coloured underparts without a whitish coloured belly. It differs from the female Blue quail in not having barred patterning on the underparts. Immature Harlequin and Common quail are hard to distinguish.

Distribution and habitat

Widely distributed in savanna and woodland regions in Africa; also occupying southern Arabia and Madagascar. Within southern Africa it occurs in the North-West Province, Free State, Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, northern KwaZulu-Natal, Swaziland, northern Namibia, northern Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. It generally favours savanna woodland with patches of bristle grasses (Setaria) and Sorghum (Sorghum purpureosericum).

Coturnix delegorguei (Harlequin quail) 

Distribution of Harlequin quail in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  



Recorded by Clem Hagner, [© Transvaal Museum]



Subject to large scale movements that are influenced by rainfall. There is a pattern of movement within southern Africa with birds moving south in the rainy season to breed. Migrate at night and are often killed by flying into buildings or being killed on roads. 


Mainly eats invertebrates, doing most of its foraging beneath cover, or occasionally on the edges of roads and tracks. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:



  • Pairs breed in close proximity to one another, almost forming a colony. 
  • Nest is made by the female and consists of a scrape in the ground, sometimes lined with grass or leaves, hidden among the grass.
  • Egg-laying season peaks after heavy rains.
  • After laying 4-8 eggs, the female incubates them for 14-18 days before they hatch. Up to 22 eggs can be found in a nest, the result of laying by multiple females.
  • Chicks are able to fly short distances after five days. 


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG (eds) 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.

  • Sinclair, I, Hockey, P. and Tarboton, W. 2002. Sasol Birds of Southern Africa. 3rd edition. Struik, Cape Town. 

Text by Hamish Robertson