Warning after cockatoos 'stare down' McDonald's customer at Sydney Westfield

Littered McDonald’s food is a common sight on Australia’s streets, and it could be having an unintended impact on the nation’s urban wildlife.

Cockatoos were seen feasting on McDonald’s fries outside Sydney’s Westfield Miranda on Monday.

When the images of them tearing apart fast food wrappers were posted to Facebook, some people were initially amused by their playful behaviour. But details of the incident have left experts concerned.

Three cockatoos perched on a trolley and tearing apart a McDonald's food bag.
Mr McAliece said the cockatoos ate a number of McDonald's fries and then shredded a fast-food bag. Source: Neil McAliece

Photography hobbyist Neil McAliece initially snapped the two cockatoos inside a trolley, saying they were picking at fries inside a McDonald’s bag.

He continued to watch as the pair had picked the bag clean. They then turned their attention to a pedestrian carrying a McDonald’s bag who was waiting at a crossing.

Left - Two cockatoos on the ground looking up at a pedestrian carrying a McDonald's bag. Centre - a close up of a cockatoo. Right - a cockatoo standing on a No Stopping sign.
The cockatoos bailed up a pedestrian carrying a McDonald's bag. Source: Neil McAliece

“They followed him from the shopping trolley to the intersection, and just stopped really close in front of him and stared him down,” Mr McAliece told Yahoo News Australia.

“Unfortunately he did decide to feed them and about half a dozen cockatoos from another tree descended and went after him.

“They weren't aggressive. But someone throwing food got their attention. One was clinging to his sleeve for a bit.”

McDonald's responds to littering concerns

McDonald's responded to concerns about its product being littered, saying it is "committed" to "keeping waste out of our environment".

Two cockatoos on the ground. One is eating out of a bag of fries.
Mr McAliece believes the cockatoos may have developed a taste for McDonald's. Source: Neil McAliece

"We encourage our customers to put their rubbish in the bin and our restaurants conduct regular litter patrols to ensure rubbish has been properly discarded," a spokesperson said.

It said improvements have been made to reduce packaging and improve our sustainability, adding that it is a founding partner of Clean Up Australia Day.

Why McDonald’s is unhealthy for cockatoos

In the wild, the cockatoo eat seeds and nuts, and even when they do pick up fruit they normally don’t eat the flesh and instead shred it to get what’s inside.

Sean Dooley from Birdlife Australia warns anything that doesn’t fit within this narrow diet is bad for the bird.

“That's even before you get into the whole high fat, salt, sugar content of junk food like McDonald’s,” he said.

“It does the same thing that it does to us. If they eat less natural food they’re consuming less of their required mineral and nutrient balance.”

The cockatoos were photographed playing outside Westfield Miranda. Source: Neil McAliece
The cockatoos were photographed playing outside Westfield Miranda. Source: Neil McAliece

Even more worryingly, feeding native birds can lead to aggressive behaviour, particularly among cockatoos.

“One potential negative for the birds is that they become accustomed to people and it can become a negative for the bird’s safety,” he said.

“Cockatoos are smart, but they don't necessarily discern between people who want to feed them and people who don't.

“You can end up getting negative reactions… when cockatoos use stand-over tactics to get food from unsuspecting people.”

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