It was late September in 2020 when Juliette Wells and her partner Reese Mortensen took their one year old English Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Peggy, for a walk in a local park. September is Spring in their Queensland, Australia home so they weren’t surprised to see lots of birds. That is, until they came upon one on the ground.
The bird, a young Australian magpie, didn’t look to be in great shape. Wells and Mortensen decided to stay nearby and keep an eye on the bird to determine if it was in need of help. It soon became obvious that the bird was not well. Reese crouched down to examine the bird and, perhaps sensing a kindred spirit, the bird crawled up his arm and perched his shoulder.
After checking in with local wildlife rehabilitators, they decided to take the bird home until she was healthy. Their plan was to release her into the wild once she was strong enough. So, the trio returned home a foursome. They named the bird Molly, and the rest is interspecies friendship history.
An Unlikely Friendship
“I think Peggy realized it was important to keep this little bird alive,” says Wells. “At first she was pretty scared of Molly but then she saw the way we were treating Molly—really nurturing and caring for Molly—and Peggy realized this little bird needed our help.”
Peggy’s form of help came in a very unexpected way—she began lactating.
“About three weeks after we brought Molly home Peggy actually started producing milk and Molly was actually drinking the milk,” Wells explains. “We ended up taking Peggy to the vet and they just said, ‘Look, there’s nothing you can do. She’s having a phantom pregnancy because she thinks this little one is hers’.”
She’s having a phantom pregnancy because she thinks this little one is hers.
“So they told us just to keep a t-shirt on Peggy…but Molly still seemed to get through so we had to put a denim shirt on her!”
As the end of the year approached, Peggy was still producing milk so Wells and Mortensen decided to take her again to the vet where Peggy was given an injection to stop lactation. “Which actually made her quite sick,” says Wells. “Her body went through quite a lot to nurture this little one and I think with the fact that Peggy went through all this, Molly just assumed that Peggy was her mum. She used to walk around squawking and crying to Peggy when she was hungry—it was actually quite cute.”
“Honestly it’s more of a mum/daughter relationship than anything else,” Wells says. “Actually, we found out Molly is a boy so it’s a nurturing mother/child relationship.”
As the two continued to bond, they started playing together with toys. “Peggy would put twigs or toys in her mouth to entice Molly to come and play,” says Wells. “They were so gentle and so playful and they used to just play for hours with toys…or chase each other up and down the halls.”
Wells began documenting the pair’s antics and posting them to social media where they became an instant hit. Peggy and Molly now have over 155k followers on Instagram and nearly 55k on TikTok.
Watching the World Go by, Together
Two years later, Peggy and Molly are still great friends but much has changed. “When they were younger they were a lot more playful,” Wells points out. “Now they’re a little bit more mature. Molly’s quite interested in his clan—his magpie bird world—which is totally understandable. But they do love to just sit and watch the other birds and sunbake together, sometimes for up to an hour. It’s really sweet.”
Because Molly is a wild magpie he is free to come and go as he pleases. “Molly loves to fly and that was the whole point,” notes Wells. “We never wanted to keep Molly as a pet or anything like that. Our whole goal was to nurture this little one back to health and obviously set him free. But he seems to want to stay close.”
“Peggy has always become a little distressed if it’s been longer than two days that Molly is away,” says Wells. She recounts a story from when Molly was younger and decided to fly off just as three days of bad weather set in.
“Because Peggy was quite anxious, we decided to drive around the streets. Because magpies are very intelligent we thought Molly might recognize our bright orange car. So we drove the streets shouting and calling and we actually walked out through the bush in the rain. We had our raincoats on and we were drenched—but we didn’t stop looking. It was hours and we didn’t find Molly so we drove home and immediately went outside and, funny enough, Molly was waiting in the tree out the back.”
Molly put his wing on Peggy’s stomach like he was saying, ‘I will look out for these babies as well.’
“He was actually slightly injured, but alive,” Wells continues. “Peggy was just so excited and Molly didn’t want to have anything to do with Peggy because obviously Molly was very, very tired. But Peggy was just wanting to help so she just sat beside Molly, just to make sure Molly was OK, and that’s never changed”.
Nowadays when Molly is away, “Peggy waits and looks around and if she hears a bird and thinks it’s Molly she’ll run outside,” Wells explains. “It’s actually really beautiful.”
And Baby Makes Three
In 2021 Peggy became pregnant with a litter of pups. “Molly used to stand on Peggy’s stomach and sing to the babies,” Wells remembers. “There was one video–one moment of time that I will never forget. They were out there on the dog bed sunbaking and Molly put his wing out on Peggy’s stomach and they were there for a couple of minutes…Like Molly was saying, ‘I will look out for these babies as well.’ And that he did.”
Molly was present for the birth of Peggy’s pups, four boys and one girl, on August 8, 2021. “Molly was so curious and so protective of all these puppies—they were all bonded from the beginning,” notes Wells.
Not only were the animals bonded, so were the humans. Wells and Mortensen decided to keep the little girl from Peggy’s litter, naming her Ruby. “We wanted a mother and daughter relationship for Peggy but also, Ruby has grown up with Molly.”
Ruby is now a year old and Wells notes that the dynamic between Peggy and Molly has changed but that “the three of them are very close. Ruby is very gentle and very playful with Molly.”
Despite the bonds that have been formed in this unexpected family, Wells points out that it’s not always perfect. “It’s not easy being an interspecies parent. It’s been two years and my partner and myself have not been anywhere.”
Even though Molly is a wild bird, Wells and Mortensen still feel a great responsibility toward him. “When Molly was starting to fly free, the other magpies were attacking Molly, there were pythons in the backyard, there were eagles…and so much,” said Wells.
“That is nature, I know, but being brought up domestically we are very protective of Molly so we could never really relax. If we heard Molly screeching or squawking we’d jump up and look around and make sure he’s OK, so it’s not as smooth of sailing as you’d think. It’s quite challenging at times.”
One of those times happens to be at the time of this writing. As Wells tells it, “It’s breeding season and Molly has decided he will totally love Reese and I can’t be in the same room as him. He attacks me and he gets quite aggressive. With the help of wildlife care we know this is normal and will pass but it has been very, very challenging. It’s quite upsetting to me because I was there day one and I have been nurturing Molly and then all of the sudden he turns around and he hates me.”
“That was devastating for me and I just had to learn to live with it and go with it,” explains Wells. “So if you ever wonder about having a magpie as a pet, I wouldn’t recommend it. This is why there are dedicated wildlife carers!”
Good Friends and Role Models
Despite it all, Wells and Mortensen are committed to spreading the overall joys of their unexpected situation.
“I made sure I posted a lot during COVID and the lockdowns because these three could teach you so much about unconditional love and about acceptance,” points out Wells. “Regardless of how different they look—I mean you’ve got this little bird with a long beak and little scrawny legs and then you’ve got these dogs that have these jaws that could crush this bird in minutes—but they’re just so gentle and loving with each other.”
Many people have told me that they really appreciate magpies now.
Wells also adds that she has learned a lot about magpies in the process that she wants people to be aware of. “You know they swoop a lot, especially in breeding season, to protect their young so they can be known as being quite aggressive. But I have never seen a playful loving side until Molly and I’ve learned that about magpies, and all birds. I think the world has too, and many people have told me that they really appreciate magpies now.”
It has been, and likely will continue to be, a joyful struggle for Wells and Mortensen to manage their motley crew but Wells says, “I wouldn’t change any of it for the world.”
“We are very blessed with this relationship unfolding in front of our eyes and the fact that we can actually share it with the world is just so amazing. I’m really grateful for the whole experience.”
You can keep up with Juliette and Reese’s adventures with Peggy, Molly, and Ruby at www.peggyandmolly.net, and on Instagram and TikTok.