Ornithophobia (Fear Of Birds)

Ornithophobia (Fear Of Birds) is a psychological condition which involves an extreme and irrational fear of birds. Due to the individual’s fear, the phobia may have an impact on their day-to-day lives.

What is Ornithophobia?

Individuals with Ornithophobia have an on-going and intense fear of birds. While many people may dislike or be frightened of birds, people with Ornithophobia have an all-encompassing fear which can provoke strong physical reactions.

For some people, Ornithophobia is only present in relation to some birds, such as birds of prey. For many people, however, Ornithophobia is triggered by all types of birds and may even be triggered by images of birds, feathers and/or conversations about birds.

In order to be diagnosed with Ornithophobia, people generally have to meet the following criteria:

  • Exhibits an irrational fear of birds
  • Has a level of fear which outweighs the risk posed by birds
  • Has a fear which interferes with their daily activity
  • The fear has been present for a period of at least six months

What are the symptoms of Ornithophobia?

When an individual has a phobia, they typically have a strong reaction when their fears are triggered. This may happen because they see a bird, talk about birds or are shown pictures and videos of birds. These triggers cause the person’s anxiety levels to spike and may result in a panic attack occurring.

If an individual has a panic attack as a result of their Ornithophobia, they may experience the following symptoms:

  • Intense fear
  • Feelings of terror
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nausea
  • Fainting or feelings of faintness
  • Vomiting
  • Desire to escape
  • Hyper-vigilance
  • Rapid breathing
  • Increased pulse

Although panic attacks are extremely unpleasant, they are the mind’s way of trying to protect the individual. As it perceives birds as extremely dangerous, the brain urges the person to flee the situation by causing myriad distressing symptoms. Once the person has escaped the situation and is away from the perceived threat, in this case birds, their symptoms typically diminish.

The experience of having a panic attack, however, can reinforce the person’s fear and encourage them to avoid birds and phobic triggers in the future. As a result, individuals with Ornithophobia may engage in avoidance behavior.

This involves attempting to avoid birds at any costs. Although people with Ornithophobia (Fear Of Birds) will go to any lengths in order to avoid encountering a bird, this can be very difficult to do. Birds are present in the vast majority of locations and even inner city areas have large numbers of birds.

While Ornithophobia may prevent people from entering an aviary or bird of prey sanctuary, it can also affect their day-to-day activities. If birds are present in a town center, for example, the individual may feel unable to enter the town and, as a result, they may struggle to get to work.

Similarly, people with Ornithophobia may refuse to go in their own garden or yard, in case they encounter a bird. Often, Ornithophobia causes people to be hyper-aware and to constantly look out for birds.

This can be exhausting for the individual and often leads to social isolation. As people with Ornithophobia stop going to places due to their fear, they often lose touch with friends and family members. In extreme causes, individuals with Ornithophobia may refuse to leave their homes in case they see a bird, which can cause them to lead extremely restricted and isolated lives.

What causes Ornithophobia?

While some people are unaware of the cause of their condition, there are common issues which may result in Ornithophobia occurring. These can include:

  • Previous negative experiences with birds
  • Learned behavior
  • Media portrayals of birds

If an individual has experienced a negative encounter with birds, it can certainly result in Ornithophobia. If the experience occurred during their childhood years, it can increase the risk of them developing an intense fear of birds, particularly if they were hurt or injured because of the incident.

If an individual is attacked by a bird, witnesses a bird fight or is simply started by a bird, this experience can cause traumatic memories to become engrained in their subconscious. In a bid to avoid a similar incident occurring, the individual may develop Ornithophobia.

Alternatively, people may develop the condition if they have been around other people with a similar fear. If a peer or caregiver exhibits a significant fear of birds, this can be learned by other people. This is particularly relevant to younger patients with Ornithophobia, as they may have a parent, teacher or caregiver who is also afraid of birds.

In some cases, people may develop Ornithophobia due to negative portrayals of birds in the media. Nature programs may show clips of birds of prey attacking smaller animals, for example, or local news coverage may report a bird attack. There are even famous fictitious stories, films and television shows which show birds in a negative light and these could also cause Ornithophobia, in some instances.

Although there are common causes of Ornithophobia, not all patients will be aware of where their fear stemmed from. In some instances, the patient may be unable to recall a particular incident which prompted their fears. Whilst the cause of Ornithophobia may not always become apparent, treatment may help the individual to determine exactly what prompted their phobia.

Can Ornithophobia be treated?

When patients are affected by Ornithophobia, they can engage in treatment. Designed to reduce their fear and enable them to overcome their phobia, treatment can be extremely beneficial. Depending on the individual and the severity of their condition, various types of treatment can be used to treat Ornithophobia, such as:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Medication
  • Psychotherapy
  • Exposure therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy and hypnotherapy are noted for their effectiveness in treating phobias and may be particularly helpful to patients with Ornithophobia. Whilst cognitive behavioral therapy is concerned with changing the way individuals think about birds, hypnotherapy focuses on the subconscious response to birds. By altering the patient’s thought patterns or modifying their subconscious attitude to birds, both therapies can eliminate the individual’s fear of birds and rid them of Ornithophobia.

Alternatively, psychotherapy can be used to treat the patient’s condition. This form of treatment gives the individual the opportunity to discuss their fears with a trained professional and can help them to rationalize their phobia in a safe setting.

Patients may also choose to engage in exposure therapy when treating Ornithophobia, although this can be too overwhelming for some patients. This form of therapy involves exposing the individual to a phobic trigger and helping them to manage their fear response. As they become accustomed to their triggers, they are less likely to exhibit fear or experience increased anxiety.

Whilst medication cannot help Ornithophobia directly, it can be used to reduce the patient’s overall anxiety levels. When the patient has less of an anxiety response, they may be able to handle exposure to birds without experiencing a panic attack. This can be particularly beneficial if the individual is struggling to perform day-to-day tasks due to their condition.

Preventing Ornithophobia (Fear Of Birds)

Ornithophobia, and other phobias, can be difficult to prevent as people aren’t always aware of what triggers the condition. If an individual has experienced a negative encounter with birds, however, it is important that the incident is dealt with immediately, so that traumatic memories do not persist.

Similarly, adults with Ornithophobia should not expose children or young people to their fears. This can help to prevent the child from developing Ornithophobia as a learned response. Furthermore, exposure to negative media portrayals of birds should be limited, particularly in the case of young children or children in their formative years.

Whilst it may not always be possible to prevent a person from developing Ornithophobia, these steps could help to reduce the risk of Ornithophobia developing.