The irrational fear of birds is known as ornithophobia. Whilst it is logical to fear being swooped by a magpie during nesting season, feeling overwhelming panic at the thought of leaving home in case one encounters any type of bird is not rational. Are there different types of ornithophobia? Why would a person have a general fear of birds, what impact would it have on their life and what treatments are available?
Types of ornithophobia The word ornithophobia is made of of two Greek words. Ornitho means bird and phobia means fear. Some people have a fear of a specific type of bird, usually big birds of prey such as eagles, vultures or buzzards. These birds have strong sharp beaks and claws. Their eyes have a piercing quality.
These types of birds feature in mythology and there are tales of them flying off with a baby. Vultures and buzzards, being scavengers, are synonymous with death. It is not surprising some people are frightened of them.
Emus, ostriches and cassowaries have powerful beaks and claws and their eyes are pretty scary. I recall my father being chased by an emu when we were on holidays. It is understandable some people have a phobia about these large powerful birds.
The good news is one is very unlikely to encounter these types of birds in day to day life.
Other people have a generalised fear of birds. Their fear will include pet birds such as budgies and canaries as well as bigger birds.
A phobia of birds may even include pictures.
Possible causes of ornithophobia The most common cause is having had a negative experience with a bird or birds during childhood. Perhaps the person was attacked by a goose or rooster on a farm.
Perhaps a large noisy flock of seagulls or pigeons keen on getting bread or chips frightened the person when they were young. It can be intimidating to be surrounded by birds, even if you have never seen Alfred Hitchcock's movie, 'The Birds'.
Some people who have a phobia about germs are afraid of catching a disease from birds, especially from feral birds such as pigeons.
Pigeons are often found in built up areas Image by Marie Vonow
An experience of being swooped by a magpie may trigger the phobia in a susceptible person.
A child whose parents fear birds is likely to also develop a phobia.
Other people fear a bird will land on their head and get its claws tangled in their hair. Some just fear the flapping of a bird's wings.
Impact of ornithophobia A person with this phobia may be afraid to go to zoos, parks and other places where they know they will encounter birds. While many people find watching ducks on water relaxing, someone with a bird phobia will not.
Image by Marie Vonow
They may avoid eating alfresco. They may also be frightened when shopping in a mall or store where birds have been known to gain access and fly around. Some always keep the windows of their car up and try not to walk across open areas.
In severe cases a person may develop agoraphobia and become extremely anxious if they have to leave their home. They may be unable to hold down a job unless they can work from home.
Some will only go out at night when the likelihood of encountering a bird is very low.
Treatments Ornithophobia can be treated with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. As well as talking about their fear the person may go through a program of desensitisation by being gradually exposed to birds. Sometimes CBT is combined with medication.
Relaxation techniques amy be part of the treatment. Hypnotherapy helps some sufferers.
Ornithophobia can have a profound impact on a person's life as birds can be found anywhere. Therefore anyone with this condition should seek professional help to overcome it and be able to lead a full life.
Goodness, it does sound limit to have ornithophobia. Does CBT and other therapies have a reasonable success rate? I am okay with most birds, except magpies, due to real experiences of being swooped by them! I enjoyed your article - thank you.
Hi Justine. From what I have read CBT seems to help many people who suffer ornithophobia. I understand your fear of magpies, especially during the swooping season. I tend to avoid areas I know they swoop or hold an umbrella over my head.