Ornithophobia is a type of specific phobia, which is an abnormal and irrational fear of birds. The origin of the word ornitho is Greek (meaning bird) and phobia is Greek (meaning fear). The fear of birds is not uncommon, and it stems from the menacing, darker image of some birds of prey. Sufferers of this phobia might fear that they will be attacked by a bird or may simply be uncomfortable around them.
Some people may only fear predatory or scavenging birds, such as vultures, while others will even be afraid of household pets in the likes of budgies. The phobia itself causes heart palpitations, sweating, nervousness, and avoidance behavior in those who suffer from Ornithophobia. Without treatment the phobia can become life-limiting.
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. A raven was believed to symbolize the subconscious mind and to evoke feelings of pain and misery. Birds such as ravens are known for their macabre image. Many birds, such as vultures, are potent symbols of death.
Some birds can be loud, large and menacing, and they can demonstrate little fear of humans. Many people are wary of snacking in areas with large bird populations. Birds sometimes fly through open windows or down chimneys, causing an uproar in the home. If the sufferer was nervous in such encounters, this could be enough to trigger a phobia.
Effects on life
Birds are widespread throughout the world with more than 10,000 species around the world. Thus, it is not uncommon for those with ornithophobia to gradually restrict their activities. They might avoid picnics and other outdoor activities. They may become unable to visit pet stores. Over time, untreated ornithophobia could eventually lead them to become agoraphobic, afraid to leave the house for fear of confronting a bird.
Parks and town squares can be common places where the fear of birds is experienced, and the sufferers of this phobia will do their best to avoid these locations. People with severe phobias about birds may find themselves confined to their homes, afraid of even opening a window or door. The sufferers would usually fear their fluttering wings or feathers, the way they fearlessly fly towards people hoping for food, the fear of disease or any combination of these.
Some people with severe ornithophobia may even avoid people with the surname 'Bird'. Some clients have reported that they think birds are attracted to those people. This thought is largely considered irrational.
Ornithophobia can cause the following symptoms: breathlessness, dizziness, excessive sweating, nausea, dry mouth, shaking, heart palpitations, inability to speak or think clearly, a fear of dying, becoming mad or losing control, or a full-blown anxiety attack. When forced to confront a bird, the person might shake, cry or even freeze. They may then run away or attempt to hide. They might also experience anticipatory anxiety in the days before a likely confrontation with birds.
Most phobias trigger panic attack symptoms in the afflicted, and this is true of the Ornithophobia as well. Persons who become agitated when birds are near tend to stay away from situations where they will be present. As with many animal phobias, just the sight or sound of birds (or even a photo of a bird) can terrify people with this condition. It might also be a fear of being attacked by birds, although this rarely happens.
Ornithophobia may respond well to cognitive behavioral therapy techniques. A trained therapist will help the sufferer by confronting their fear, replacing their negative thoughts with more positive self talk. They will be given relaxation techniques to use when their anxiety level rises whilst encountering a bird. Systematic desensitization can be helpful, in which the sufferer is gradually exposed to birds, such as slowly reintroducing safe, gentle birds to them.
If the phobia is severe, hypnosis and/or medications may be used to help the therapy. Psychotherapy, anti-depressants, and hypnotherapy can all be used to treat excessive fear and anxiety. Getting at the root of the phobia is the first step in determining a course of treatment. If a person suffering from this phobia has had a traumatic interaction with birds, they will need to talk about their fears with the therapist in order to release tension and gain perspective.
In popular culture
- Alfred Hitchcock's horror film The Birds is often used as an example of ornithophobia. Although in the film, the birds do attack humans, so it is rational for the humans to be afraid of the birds. Hitchcock created an atmosphere of horror and unease, aided by the frightening sounds and images of angry, bloodthirsty birds. Lead actress Tippi Hedren was said to be traumatized by the repeated use of live birds in the “attacks” on her character.
- Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven, a poem evoked the dark menace, and also the grim, stately beauty of the black raven. Poe is thought to have written this in response to the suffering of his own wife, who was stricken with tuberculosis.
- Lulu from True Jackson VP is somewhat afraid of birds, making her ornithophobic. As she mentions to True in one episode, "They give me the creeps, but I'm not sure why." In another episode, Lulu freaks out when a bird lands on her head.
- Green from the Pokemon Adventures manga is afraid of birds, as a result of being kidnapped by one when she was little.
- Randy on My Name is Earl is afraid of birds. In one episode Earl tries to help Randy overcome it.
- Shale from Dragon Age suffers from a fear of birds. The golem often comments on "crushing the vile feathery fiends" and shows disgust when Shale and Alistar have a conversation about eating chickens.
- Mitchell Pritchett from Modern Family is afraid of birds, as seen in the season one finale "Family Portrait" and the season two premiere "The Old Wagon" and the season three premiere "Dude Ranch."
- GLaDOS from Portal develops a severe phobia of birds after almost being eaten by one in Portal 2 while stuck in a potato battery.
- Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory lists the condition as one of his phobias and even discusses the issue with a small child named Rebecca who shares the condition in the 13th episode of the second season entitled "The Friendship Algorithm". In Season 5, Episode 9, "The Ornithophobia Diffusion", the episode's Sheldon plot centred around his confronting and eventual overcoming of this condition.
Celebrities with the phobia
- Lucille Ball, an American actress, was so afraid of birds that she once had a $90 per roll wallpaper removed from her home when she discovered that the print contained shadowy images of small birds.
- Eminem, who is afraid of owls.
- Jonathan Freeman, an American actor, who admitted about being afraid of birds and tried to overcome his fear of them by going to buy one at a pet store in Manhattan, but he did not buy one as he did not overcome his fear of them.
- Niall Horan, of One Direction, is afraid of pigeons.
- Scarlett Johansson
- List of phobias
- Alektorophobia, fear of chickens and fowls