Coping With Ornithophobia

A Specific Phobia That Can Limit Your Lifestyle

Bird overhead

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In This Article

The animal phobia ornithophobia, or fear of birds, can take many forms. Some people fear only birds of prey, such as vultures, while others are afraid of household pets like parakeets. Learn more about this animal phobia.

Causes

Like all animal phobias, the most common cause of ornithophobia is a negative encounter with the feared animal. Many birds can be somewhat aggressive in hunting for food, and childhood run-ins with pigeons or seagulls bent on stealing popcorn or other snacks are common.

You don't have to experience the negative encounter directly. Birds sometimes fly through open windows or down chimneys, causing an uproar in the home. If your parents were nervous during such events, this could be enough to trigger a phobia as well.

Symptoms

Like many specific phobias, the symptoms of ornithophobia vary according to its severity. You might fear only large birds or only wild birds. You might be afraid of specimens that have undergone taxidermy, such as those in natural history museums. You may fear all representations of birds, including photos.

When forced to confront a bird, you might:

  • Shake
  • Cry
  • Freeze in place
  • Run away
  • Attempt to hide

You might also experience anticipatory anxiety in the days before a likely confrontation with birds.

Complications

Birds are extremely prevalent throughout populated areas of the world making it nearly impossible to go through an entire day without a single encounter. Therefore, it is not uncommon for those with ornithophobia to gradually restrict their activities, for example, you may:

  • Avoid picnics and other outdoor activities
  • Become unable to visit pet stores
  • Become agoraphobic, afraid to leave your house for fear of confronting a bird

Treatment

Ornithophobia typically responds well to cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques. A trained therapist can help you confront your fear, replacing your negative thoughts with more positive self-talk. She will teach you relaxation techniques to use when your anxiety flares. Systematic desensitization, in which you are gradually exposed to birds while practicing your new skills, can also be extremely helpful. Hypnosis is sometimes employed.

If your phobia is severe, your healthcare provider may suggest medications in conjunction with therapy. The goal is to reduce your fear to a manageable level so that you can begin to work through it and regain control of your life.

In Popular Culture and Folklore

In the unforgettable 1963 Alfred Hitchcock film The Birds, birds that appear intent on attacking humans overrun a California town. The suspense builds as the attacks increase from small nips to scenes of carnage. No reason is ever given for the small and normally docile birds’ transformation into killing machines. Many moviegoers were left uneasy about birds after seeing that film.

Edgar Allan Poe’s "The Raven" features a solitary bird that observes and provokes a grieving man’s descent into madness. There are various interpretations of the poem, some casting the raven as an unknowing chance visitor, others implying that the bird’s intention was to bring about the narrator’s destruction.

Throughout history, birds have often been associated with good and evil, fortune telling and rebirth. From the legendary phoenix believed to rise from its own ashes to the unlucky albatross, folklore tales regarding birds come from all corners of the world.

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Article Sources
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Additional Reading
  • American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th Ed). Washington DC: Author; 2013.​​