Fears Peggy and Molly saga could inspire 'bizarre' backyard magpie trend

In 12 months, one wildlife group has rescued 25 magpies that were kept as pets.

An Aussie magpie is recovering after a man’s disastrous attempt to make it befriend his two pet dogs. Unable to fly away because its feathers had been clipped, the ball-shaped youngster has been named Potato by his rescuers.

“He had been following the Peggy and Molly story,” the rescuer revealed. “He was really hoping to keep her, but the dogs were mouthing Potato because she couldn't fly. He was quite reluctant to hand her over, because he’d seen the story and thought it was okay."

Potato is one of two magpies rescued last weekend. A total of 25 illegally-kept magpies have been surrendered over the last 12 months to the shelter where Potato is now recovering and learning how to be a wild bird.

A picture of Peggy and Molly reunited.
It is feared the popularity of Molly the magpie could lead to more people wanting the birds as pets. Source: Peggyandmolly

Related: Magpie and dog social media account shut down

Because taking magpies from the wild is an issue that can trigger strong emotions, Yahoo has chosen not to name the shelter or its volunteers who are caring for Potato.

“I don't know what makes people want to take magpies from the wild, it's bizarre,” the shelter owner said. “We see a lot more people trying to make magpies into pets than other native species,” she said. “We have six at the moment and half of those guys have clipped wings. It's really really sad to see this deliberate action to mutilate these birds so they can’t escape.”

Fear Peggy and Molly magpie saga could inspire copycats

The Perth shelter caring for Potato specialises in magpie rehabilitation — last year they took in 100 of the birds in need of care. It is fearful the rise in popularity of magpies, triggered by coverage of the Peggy and Molly social media accounts, could inadvertently lead to a surge in people thinking it’s okay to take the native birds from the wild.

Its volunteers responded to a surge in admissions after the release of the Naomi Watts film Penguin Bloom which told the true story of an injured woman rescuing a native magpie. Similarly, the Harry Potter franchise sparked a surge in owls being taken from the wild in Bali and Jakarta and sold into the domestic pet trade. The Pixar cartoon Finding Nemo also triggered a short-lived clown fish trend.

Magpies Potato (left) and Mildred (right) in care at a sanctuary.
Magpies Potato (left) and Mildred (right) were rescued last weekend. Source: Supplied

Related: Beloved birds taken from another family after 'paperwork error' then KILLED

Molly’s owners surrendered the bird to authorities after it was revealed they’d taken it home from a park without a licence, introduced it to their dogs, built a social media following of over two million people, sold merchandise featuring its image, and secured a book deal with Penguin Random House.

Authorities said the bird had been humanised and could not fly like a normal magpie or feed itself properly. But the couple have maintained Molly had been allowed to live as a wild bird and not “kept” as a pet. There is no suggestion its wings were clipped.

The story triggered an international outcry and an extraordinary intervention from Queensland Premier Steven Miles. The bird was returned to the Gold Coast couple after they agreed to encourage people to appropriately care for native wildlife and no longer profit from the bird. They did not respond to questions from Yahoo for this story.

Potato the magpie paired with Mildred

Potato was extremely thin when she was surrendered – 230 grams instead of 300 grams. It’s believed her wings were clipped by a neighbour who wanted to keep it as a pet, but it then fled into a yard with dogs.

Two pictures of Potato with her wings clipped.
Potato had her wings clipped to prevent her flying away. Source: Supplied

“He kept her there for just over a day, because he said he wanted the magpie to get along with his dogs. Unfortunately, the dogs had other ideas. And it was really lucky she wasn't too badly damaged,” the shelter owner said.

Potato has been paired with Mildred the magpie which was discovered by a concerned homeowner tapping at her door and refusing to fly away.

“Mildred has broken tail and wing feathers, but she’s not too bad — it just seems like a bit of malnutrition that’s caused them to fracture where there was stress,” the shelter owner said.

“Who knows who was keeping her. She’s obviously got out and flown to a neighbour’s house. She had some mild peck wounds on her face, so we think the local magpies weren’t happy with her being around.”

Magpie mimics child with dangerous consequences

It takes 12 months for a bird to fully moult and grow feathers strong enough to fly again. Because magpies are territorial, rescues require them to be slowly reintroduced to their release site so they aren’t attacked by others, a process rescuers describe as “very tricky”.

While they try to rehabilitate and release all birds, a small number display dangerous behaviour and need to be euthanised. Sadly if they’ve been raised away from other magpies, they will often kill other birds when they’re introduced into a flock.

Magpie chicks are generally docile, but they are often surrendered after they become sexually mature and start attacking adults, children and pets. When they’re removed from their “human family” due to safety concerns they often become depressed.

“We have magpies come in that want to play with shoes, others want to hang off their shirts because that’s what they’re used to doing,” the shelter owner said.

“We had one come in last year where the person caring for the bird had passed away. She was very aggressive to people and other magpies. She would make these noises like a human child, and lure volunteers over to the aviary with a false sense of security. Then she’d sneak up behind them and try to take out their eyes.”

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