In a young Quaker that is of weaning age, feathers may look a bit “ratty” due to being new, not necessarily because of illness. The earliest indication of a developing feather is a thickened, pointed projection of skin. New feather growth can be distinguished by the appearance of “pin feathers”, which are new feathers encased in a sheath of keratin. Each of these young growing feathers contain their own artery and vein. After the feather has completely grown in, the sheath is removed by the bird’s preening or falls of by itself.
Quakers who are growing new pin feathers on their head sometimes like to have their heads rubbed gently, to aid in the removal or sheaths since that is the one area that they cannot reach to preen. Then again, sometimes any area growing pin feathers in extremely sensitive that the bird simply doesn’t want to be touched at all. Be very careful and handle your Quaker gently if he is growing new feathers; rough handling at this time can be painful for him, and he may be short-tempered and nippy.
Older Quakers may have ratty-looking feathers due to molting. Molting is the term used to describe the shedding of old feathers simultaneously with the growth of new ones, which are also considered “pin feathers”. Again, the new feathers will be covered with a sheath of keratin (protein) until they have fully developed, and care should be taken when handling your bird.
Check the activity level of the bird at various times during the day. A healthy Quaker should be sitting alertly, be active, with bright eyes and be well-feathered. Observe his general attitude. He should sit on his perch, or he may possibly hang on the sides of the cage at various times, but he should not cower in the bottom of his cage and attempt to avoid all interaction. If a bird is constantly listless and does not vocalize, this could be an indication of masked illness.