A phobia is an irrational fear about certain objects, features or animals that is out of proportion to the existing circumstances. Thus, Ornithophobia, or the fear of birds makes the sufferers extremely uncomfortable around birds. For some individuals, such fear is only directed towards the birds of prey such as vultures, hawks, and eagles etc, whereas in other cases, even household birds like parrots or parakeets as well as the sight of their feathers are enough to trigger an anxiety attack.
Causes of Ornithophobia
There may be different causes or reasons behind the excessive fear of birds:
- Young children can develop Ornithophobia if they have felt threatened by aggressive birds like vultures, hawks or geese.
- In some cases, the birds might not have shown any violence, but their mere presence at traumatic events such as funerals or accidents can be enough to trigger a phobia in a young child.
- Birds flying inside the homes through an open window and causing upheaval might have made the parents nervous and this can trigger anxiety attack in the child.
- Ornithophobia can also be instigated by folklore or movies. Alfred Hitchcock’s film The Birds, or Edgar Allan Poe’s poem ‘The Raven’ also portray birds in negative light or as killing machines.
- Images of carnivorous birds attacking small prey like rabbits seen on TV shows can sometimes develop a fear of birds in young minds.
Most cases of childhood Ornithophobia go away on their own while others may persist even in adulthood.
Symptoms of Ornithophobia
The symptoms of this phobia vary based on the severity of the condition. As with any other type of phobia, Ornithophobia symptoms can be categorized broadly as mental, physical or emotional.
- Some people refuse to eat in places where birds may be present from the fear of having their food stolen by the birds.
- Ornithophobic individuals are afraid of birds preserved by taxidermists and present in museums etc. Still others are afraid of all images, photos or even the feathers of birds.
- Physical symptoms of this phobia typically include breaking in cold sweat, trembling or shaking, screaming or crying, having an increased heart rate, freezing in place or attempting to flee at the sight of birds.
Some individuals are known to experience such anxiety attacks days before an actual confrontation with the birds. Like many other types of phobias, the fear of birds can sometimes be severely debilitating in that; the individual might refuse to leave his home entirely, thereby affecting the day-to-day life.
Treatment for fear of birds
Overcoming Ornithophobia is essential specially if it causing one to be anxious or depressed all the time. A severely crippling phobia needs professional treatment. In milder cases, one can develop and stick to some self help routines such as positive reaffirmations and visualizations, meditation, or controlled deep breathing and so on.
For people with severe anxiety, doctors might prescribe tranquilizers and other medicines to reduce the severity of the symptoms. However, care must be taken when using them. Weaning off such medications can cause withdrawal symptoms and they do not do much for the fear itself rather than providing symptomatic relief.
Since most phobias are defined as “a conditional reflex or learning gone wrong”, psychotherapists also recommend behavior therapy to help the phobic individual unlearn these reflexes. Behavior therapy is known to be effective in nearly 9 out of 10 cases of Ornithophobia.
Gradual desensitization is another effective method of treating the fear of birds or fear of feathers. Ten to thirty sessions (depending on individual cases) may be used for exposing the person to his/her objects of fears. The patient is shown slides or images of birds or their feathers, taught to imagine approaching the birds until s/he gradually learns to cope without distress.
If you or a person you know is suffering from Ornithophobia so much so that it causing great deal of tension or anxiety all the time, then one of the aforementioned psychotherapies is sure to help treat the condition successfully.