What Is Anatidaephobia?

Can you really have a fear of ducks?

A picture of a duck

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A phobia is a form of anxiety disorder characterized by an extreme and irrational fear of a situation or object. Phobias are one of the most common types of mental disorders. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 12.5% of all U.S. adults will experience some type of phobia at some point in their lives.

One phobia that has been discussed on many websites and blogs is known as anatidaephobia. While often presented as a real phobia, anatidaephobia is actually an invented phobia and not a medically-recognized diagnosis

What Is Anatidaephobia?

Anatidaephobia originated from the Far Side comic by Gary Larson, who defined it as:

"The fear that somewhere, somehow, a duck is watching you."

The definition was accompanied by a comic illustration depicting a man alone in his office, while a duck watches him from across the street.

The point of the phobia (or, in this case, ‘fauxbia’) was to illustrate the point that any object can become a source of fear. 

Since Larson first introduced the concept, the concept of anatidaephobia has worked its way into popular consciousness and is now often presented as a real type of phobia. A quick internet search reveals an abundance of websites either presenting the phobia as Larson originally conceived it or mislabeling it as simply “the fear of ducks.”

The term anatidaephobia originates from the name for the biological family of waterfowl that includes geese and ducks ('Anatidae') and the Greek word for fear ('phóbos').

Anatidaephobia might not be real or officially recognized, but that does not mean that a fear of ducks or geese is not possible. The fear of birds, or ornithophobia, is a very real specific phobia. In fact, the actual fear of ducks and geese would be characterized as a form of ornithophobia. 

Specific phobias are classified as one of five different sub-types: animal, natural environment, blood or injury, situational, or other type. Ornithophobia is an animal type of specific phobia. Some people with this phobia might fear all kinds of birds, while others might only fear a specific type of birds such as waterfowl, birds of prey, or tropical birds.

Like other animal phobias, this fear often stems from a negative encounter with the fear object, in this case, ducks or geese. Being bitten, chased, or attacked by a duck or flock of ducks while at the park, for example, might lead to later fear of this type of bird.

Symptoms

When people encounter the source of their fear, they experience feelings of uncontrollable anxiety. 

Common symptoms include:

  • Rapid breathing and heartbeat
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Chest pain
  • Stomach upset
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea

People may also go to great lengths to avoid the source of their fear, sometimes to the point that it interferes with daily functioning. A person might avoid certain locations or even stop leaving their home in order to prevent any encounters with the feared object.

In some cases, people may also have a panic attack. During a panic attack, fear symptoms become so severe that people might feel disoriented, detached, or even as if they are dying. 

Treatment and Coping With Phobias

While anatidaephobia is not real, the fear of birds including ducks or geese can be serious and often debilitating. Fortunately, there are effective treatments available to help people overcome their phobia and manage their symptoms.

Treatment options include:

  • Cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT), which involves identifying the problematic thought patterns that contribute to phobic responses. Then, the individual works with the therapist to replace these unhelpful thoughts with more realistic ways of thinking. The goal is to remove the anxiety response from the fear trigger.
  • Exposure therapy, which involves being exposed to a fear object, usually gradually and systematically, until the object no longer triggers a fear response. 


Medications
may also be used in conjunction with psychotherapy to help manage symptoms of anxiety.

Coping Tips

If you have a fear of ducks or some other type of specific phobia, there are also a number of coping strategies that you can use to make your anxiety more manageable.

  • Practice breathing exercises. Knowing how to calm yourself down when you feel anxiety kick in is an important part of coping. Slow, deep breathing that allows your body to return to a calmer state can help.
  • Visualize a calming scene. Think of something that helps you feel serene, whether it's relaxing on a sunny beach or curling up in front of the tv. 
  • Try distracting yourself. Go for a walk, listen to music, or focus your mind on something else that will help distract you from your fear. 
  • Keep practicing. The more frequently you can pair your relaxation strategies with your fears, the better you will be able to fall into that relaxed state when faced with the source of your anxieties. You phobia might not go away entirely, but it will at least be easier to live with.
  • Challenge your thoughts. When you find yourself stuck in thought patterns that contribute to fear, actively challenge those thoughts. Ask yourself if those beliefs are realistic. Try to replace those thoughts with more helpful ones, or even focus on positive mantras to help you get through periods of anxiety.

If your fear is so intense that it disrupts your daily life, if it has lasted longer than six months, and it causes significant distress, you should consider seeking treatment.

A Word From Verywell

Anatidaephobia might not be a real or recognized phobia, but that does not mean the fear of ducks or geese is not a serious issue. You should not ignore your symptoms if you do find yourself experiencing symptoms of some type of specific phobia. Talk to your doctor for advice on how to deal with your fear and to explore your treatment options. 

You can also contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) helpline at 1-800-950-6264 for information, support, and referrals to mental health professionals in your area.

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Article Sources

  • American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author; 2013.

  • Larson, G.The PreHistory of The Far Side: A 10th Anniversary Exhibit. Universal Press; 1989.

  • National Institute of Mental Health. Statistics: Specific phobia. 2017.