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Ornithophobia

Fear of Birds

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Updated May 21, 2014

Ornithophobia, or fear of birds, can take many forms. Some people fear only birds of prey, such as vultures, while others are afraid of even household pets like parakeets. If you suffer from ornithophobia, you might fear that you will be attacked by a bird or you may simply be uncomfortable around them.

Causes of Ornithophobia

Like all animal phobias, ornithophobia is commonly caused by 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. Many people, whether or not they have a full-blown phobia, are wary of snacking in areas with large bird populations.

The negative encounter need not have happened to you directly. Birds sometimes fly through open windows or down chimneys, causing an uproar in the home. If your parents were nervous in such encounters, this could be enough to trigger a phobia.

Ornithophobia in Popular Culture

Who could ever forget the 1963 Alfred Hitchcock film The Birds? In that film, the town of Bodega Bay, CA is overrun with birds that appear intent on attacking humans. 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, and the attacks eventually end as quickly as they began.

Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven features a solitary bird that observes and provokes a grieving man’s descent into madness. Varying interpretations have been made 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.

Ornithophobia and Folklore

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 have arisen from all corners of the world.

One of the most common legends surrounding birds is that they may serve as portends of death. This belief is at the root of some cases of ornithophobia, such as the severe phobia suffered by Lucille Ball. According to urban legend site snopes.com, her phobia was so severe that she once had $90 per roll wallpaper removed from her home when she discovered that the print contained shadowy images of small birds.

Symptoms of Ornithophobia

The symptoms of ornithophobia will 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 or even freeze in place. You may run away or attempt to hide. You might also experience anticipatory anxiety in the days before a likely confrontation with birds.

Complications of Ornithophobia

Birds are extremely prevalent throughout populated areas of the world. It would be nearly impossible to go through an entire day without a single encounter with some type of bird. Therefore, it is not uncommon for those with ornithophobia to gradually restrict their activities. You might avoid picnics and other outdoor activities. You may become unable to visit pet stores. Over time, untreated ornithophobia could eventually lead you to become agoraphobic, afraid to leave your house for fear of confronting a bird.

Treating Ornithophobia

Fortunately, there is help. 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. You will be taught relaxation techniques to use when your anxiety flares. Systematic desensitization, in which you are gradually exposed to birds while practicing your new skills, can be extremely helpful.

If your phobia is severe, hypnosis and/or medications may be used in conjunction with therapy. The goal is to reduce your fear to a manageable level so that you can begin to work through it.

Ornithophobia, or fear of birds, is not uncommon. However, without treatment it can become life-limiting. Under the guidance of a trained therapist, you can overcome your phobia.

Source:

American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

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