Variations of Animals in Nature

April 1, 2008 at 12:23 am (Family Life, Science)

I saw this article recently about how animals at zoos are having problems because they live much longer than they would in the wild. And that got me thinking about our Timneh Grey Parrot, Loki.

We got Loki from a friend of my wife, and he is an interesting bird. He is much more social than my daughter’s white-fronted amazon. He was still a juvenile (about 1 year) when we got him, and I was a bit concerned about him going through little birdy puberty, because they can become quite agressive then. His demeanor didn’t change much, but he did grow quite a bit. About 3 months after we started noticing the changes in him, it became apparent that something was wrong. He was already beyond the upper range of what Timneh’s are supposed to be for his height – forget trying to weigh him, he doesn’t stand still long enough.
Fortunately our vet has an avian vet on staff, and they were able to confirm that his size wasn’t normal. They did a blood test (I don’t know how they draw blood from a bird – I’m curious, but don’t really want to ask) and it confirmed that he was producing abnormally high levels of growth hormone.

By this time, he had gotten so large that he was having difficulty flying. He could fly from his cage or perch (or my shoulder), but wasn’t able to take off when he was standing on the table or floor – which he had been easily able to do before.

My sons thought that him being big was really cool – they wanted to take him to the wild-game supper next year, because he was nearly as large as the coopers hawk that the ‘raptors up close‘ people had there last year. At least they thought it was cool until they found out that the larger he got, the shorter his lifespan would be.

The vet called around, and found that the normal treatment (in people) is to remove or irradiate the pituitary gland. Since that’s not really an option, the next best choice was to treat him with a growth hormone receptor blocker – which they don’t make in liquid form for birds.

Ever tried to give a bird a pill? The vet will tell you to just ‘hold his beak and put the pill in his throat’ – yeah, right. I’d like to see him try it. They’d call him thumbs after that, cause he wouldn’t have any. We tried giving him the pill, which he tasted and then tossed away. We tried covering it with peanut butter (hey, it works for the dogs), but he licked the peanut butter off and threw the pill away (as the dogs do sometimes). We dissolved it in grape juice (which he likes), but he refused it. We finally had to grind it up and mix it with peanut butter – mashed banana works too.

I really hadn’t thought about it before, but it’s easy to assume that all critters of any type are pretty much the same. One ant is identical to the next, mice are identical, birds of the same species are identical – or so I thought. So how common is gigantism in the wild? It’s rare for a single adult animal to have (as it is with people), and animals that have it tend to not survive for long. However, in isolated groups such as found on islands, it is relatively common. Apparently the reduced genetic diversity makes small groups prone to gigantism or dwarfism.

We did contact Loki’s breeder to see if she had any problems with that before. The only deformity that she’d seen with any of her birds was an albino, which the mother killed as soon as it was hatched. Loki’s parents only had three clutches, and none of his siblings (to her knowledge) are breeding.

My daughter has more at Her Blog.



  1. Loki has gigantism??? « Birdwhisperer’s Weblog said,

    […] He has a rare growth disorder. It usually happens in cut off places like islands. It doesn’t happen often with birds like Loki, but it did. So, he has little birdie gigantism. My Dad has more technical information about it. […]

  2. Blogmaster said,

    Everything I ever wanted to learn about birds! I thought surely you were going to tell me that He was a SHE and that you were now going to be growing another mixed breed from you current two birds.

  3. Elaine said,

    Leave it to you and your family to have a such an unusual bird!!
    I do hope that Loki makes it long enough for me to meet him one day, Zeus as well. I’ve never known a family with 2 gods in the house.

  4. Missed It! « Birdwhisperer’s Weblog said,

    […] post for it! Last year my dad and I went to a lot of trouble and planning to throw this post, and this post together for April Fools. It was fun, and Loki got his fifteen minutes of fame. More than that, […]

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