Spotlight on the Fear of Birds

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The Causes of Ornithophobia

The most common cause of ornithophobia seems to be a negative experience with birds in the past. This may be an isolated incident where a bird got caught in a home or something more disturbing such as a bird making threatening advances to protect eggs or newborns. While there may not have been any real danger, the sounds and sights of a bird screeching and swooping can be enough to set the foundation for a phobia.

In some cases, this type of phobia can be passed on from parents. If a mother or father has a great fear of birds, they will automatically try and protect their child from exposure and so instil the same fear into them. These people will probably find it hard to define why they are afraid of birds.

The Symptoms of Ornithophobia

Ornithophobia is characterized by a fear of birds. This can be a general fear of all birds or a specific fear relating to only one type of bird. The level of fear may range from moderate to severe with symptoms including the following:

  • Sufferers commonly fear the swooping action of birds as they descend from the sky.
  • Some people are terrified by the motion and feeling of birds flapping their wings in a confined space.
  • A particular fear of pigeons is common. It is thought this is because pigeons tend to congregate in built up areas and normally lack the natural fear of humans that other birds have.
  • In certain cases, a person with ornithophobia is only afraid of dead birds.
  • A fear of birds can be extremely restrictive and some sufferers are afraid to leave their homes in case they encounter birds. If they do venture out, it may be at night when less birds are around. Even so, sufferers will keep car windows up and avoid walking across open areas.
  • Ornithophobia can bring on generalized symptoms that occur in most phobias. These are nausea, a racing heart, feelings of shakiness and a dry mouth.

The Treatment of Ornithophobia

The fear of birds can be treated and a combination of medication and behavioral cognitive therapy seems to be the most effective way to approach the problem. The drugs prescribed will not cure a person but can bring relief from the anxiety. This allows them freedom to work on the therapy without intense fear getting in the way. Medications commonly used include the following:

  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors – these are a form of antidepressant
  • Tricyclic antidepressants
  • Benzodiazepines – these have a sedative effect

Cognitive behavioral therapy will aim at desensitizing the person to birds by leading them through a step by step process. This includes the cognitive side where the person is helped to replace negative thoughts and beliefs with positive ones. Once they are thinking in a more satisfactory manner, the therapist will introduce behavioral changes. These are aimed at desensitizing the person to the fear of birds and involve small steps such as looking at birds in books or movies, watching them through a window, and touching toy birds. The aim is to bring the person to a place where the phobia does not control their actions and thoughts.

Ornithophobia can be debilitating as the world is full of birds. They are not like dogs that can be locked up, and can cause people to confine themselves to their homes. It is important to seek medical help if a fear of birds is interfering with quality of life as help is available and can be effective.


The Encyclopedia of Phobias. Fears, and Anxieties, Ronald M Doctor and Ada P Kahn, Facts on File Inc, 2000