What Is Fear of Birds (Ornithophobia)?

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Ornithophobia is a fear, or phobia, of birds. Specific phobias are a type of anxiety disorder, because fear and anxiety are triggered by a specific object or experience. People with ornithophobia are afraid of seeing or coming into contact with birds.

Learn more about this common phobia, including characteristics, treatment options, and ways to cope.

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What Is Ornithophobia?

Ornithophobia occurs when someone has such a strong fear of birds that being in the presence of a bird, or even seeing a photo or video of a bird, triggers an extreme anxiety response.

This fear or anxiety is out of proportion to the actual danger, and the person may be aware that their response seems irrational. However, without treatment, the person cannot choose to respond differently.

People with ornithophobia may fear only certain bird species, like chickens (which is known as alektorophobia), or they may only fear birds of prey or large birds. Others may specifically fear pigeons, crows, or small birds typically kept as pets, like parakeets.

Characteristics of Ornithophobia

Encountering a bird or even a thought of a bird can trigger a strong involuntary reaction for a person with ornithophobia. The reaction can be both mental and physical.

The physical reaction is similar to the typical stress response of flight, fight, or freeze. The stress response is how we all respond to threats, whether they are an actual danger or just a perceived threat.

Symptoms of ornithophobia include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating or chills
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Nausea
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Feelings of danger or doom

People with phobias may experience something called a panic attack when they encounter the object of their fear. This is a short episode of heightened anxiety or fear that shares similar symptoms.

Diagnosing Ornithophobia

To obtain a diagnosis of ornithophobia, a mental health professional will typically use the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the American Psychiatric Association's official handbook, to diagnose mental health conditions.

Specific phobias are considered mental health conditions.

A diagnosis of ornithophobia usually involves confirming the following:

  • The specific phobia always causes immediate fear and anxiety.
  • The phobic object is purposely avoided or, if it can't be avoided, causes intense fear and anxiety.
  • The fear and anxiety are out of proportion to the danger or immediate threat.
  • The fear, anxiety, and avoidance are constant and consistent over time.
  • The distress is significantly impacting quality of life.

Help Is Available

It's challenging to deal with the terror of phobias and the unrelenting anxiety of anticipating an encounter. While a person's phobic fears may seem excessive or even irrational, it's a very real and present danger to the person experiencing the phobia and should be taken seriously.

When a phobia is so debilitating that it's causing a person to isolate or stop functioning, help may be needed. Contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline online or call 800-662-4357 for more information on how to find support and treatment options.

What Causes Phobias?

There are several factors that cause phobias, so the specific cause of any phobia will vary from person to person.

A few known causes of ornithophobia include the following:

  • An incident or trauma, such as being attacked by a bird or a bird flying into someone's home
  • A learned response, for example, if a parent or sibling had a strong phobia a person might have learned to fear the same thing
  • Genetics play a role in specific phobias, because anxiety disorders can be genetic

Treatment for Ornithophobia

A person with a phobia is typically thinking about the worst-case scenario and overestimating the risk that it will actually happen. It's a way to protect themselves from danger.

For most people, simply avoiding the phobia may reduce distress and be sufficient. However, in the case of ornithophobia, it can be hard to avoid birds, especially in public settings such as parks and beaches.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, seems to be the most effective treatment for phobias.

With CBT, a therapist or counselor will help a person with phobias examine their patterns of thinking, automatic thoughts, and the feelings they may have about those thoughts.

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy has been the treatment of choice for phobias and other anxiety disorders.

Exposure therapy with a trained practitioner works by exposing a person to the phobia in small steps. Researchers now think this approach might be less effective in the long term than previously believed.

Newer methods are emerging using technology, including virtual reality exposure therapy and graded exposure therapy, which sometimes incorporates audio-visual aids.

Medications for Ornithophobia

Medications that typically treat anxiety may also help with phobias.

Antidepressants are often prescribed to help reduce anxiety. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, or SNRIs, are often prescribed to treat anxiety and panic disorder, and may also help with phobias. These can include:

Coping

The most challenging issue facing people with ornithophobia is that birds are very difficult to avoid. It may be helpful to find coping skills with the help of a counselor or therapist to reduce anxiety, especially during unexpected encounters.

Studies show the following coping skills can be helpful for phobias:

  • Mindfulness meditation: One study noted that mindfulness meditation, more than other forms of meditation, improves anxiety.
  • Diaphragmatic breathing: Breathing from the diaphragm to take in full breaths that fill the lungs may reduce the stress response. It's important not to breathe too fast and induce a panic attack. Instead, take slow, deep breaths to allow the brain more oxygen.
  • Hypnosis: In a study looking into specific phobia treatments, researchers found that hypnosis can be successful in reducing reactions in the areas of the brain that respond to fear.

Summary

Ornithophobia is the fear of birds. This fear may be in response to seeing or hearing a bird or coming into direct contact with a bird. Because encountering birds can be difficult to avoid, people with ornithophobia should discuss treatment options with a healthcare provider.

A Word From Verywell

Having a phobia like ornithophobia can be challenging to live with. You may be experiencing extreme anxiety depending on how frequently you encounter the phobic object. It's important to remember that phobias and other anxiety disorders can't be overcome through willpower alone. Ignoring the phobia won't make it go away either. Discussing treatment options with a healthcare provider and finding support through therapy or a support group can help with the isolation that often comes with having a phobia.

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9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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