What Is Ornithophobia?

  • Anila vijayan Bachelor of Homoeopathic Medicine & Surgery, India

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Overview

Birds are everywhere. They are not dangerous to humans, nor do they react in a hostile manner. Commonly, the birds don’t show any interest in human activities, but they eagerly accept food that is thrown to the ground for them to eat.

Ornithophobia is an extreme and irrational fear of birds. People with ornithophobia experience intense anxiety at the sight or the mere thought of birds, and they start avoiding situations or objects related to birds. People with this phobia often worry that the bird will attack them, or they feel they are in danger as soon as they see a bird.

Ornithophobia can occur in different ways; a person with this phobia may be afraid of all birds,  specific species of birds, only birds that can fly, birds of prey (hawks, vultures, etc.), birds that are more commonly encountered (e.g. pigeons or seagulls), or pet birds (e.g. parrots, budgies).

Causes of ornithophobia

The exact cause of ornithophobia is not known. However, the condition can affect people of all ages and genders and can be present due to a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. Commonly, people assigned female at birth (AFAB) are more likely to have phobias.

Learned behaviours

Having family members who have ornithophobia or any other phobias or anxiety disorders can place individuals at higher risk of developing ornithophobia through learned behaviours. For example, a child who observes their parent display an extreme fear of birds may later develop ornithophobia themselves.

Genetic factors

There may be a genetic aspect to the predisposition to developing specific phobias, although this is not fully understood. 

Traumatic experiences

A negative experience with birds that caused distress (for example, a bird attacking a person when they were a young child) can lead to the development of a phobia of birds.

Symptoms of ornithophobia

Symptoms of ornithophobia can feel different for everyone and can vary in severity. Like many other types of specific phobia, common symptoms of ornithophobia can include: 

  • Anxiety - this is characterised by an uneasy feeling of fear or worry, which can be mild or severe. Although a degree of anxiety can help prevent exposure to dangerous situations, anxiety that is sustained or in response to something non-threatening is maladaptive.1 For some people, even thinking about birds can make them feel anxious. This is known as anticipatory anxiety
  • Panic attack - a panic attack is a sudden, intense feeling of fear that can cause physical symptoms like increased heart rate, sweating, chills, chest pain, and shortness of breath.
  • Dizziness -  feeling weak or unsteady.
  • Nausea - feeling sick, vomiting, and diarrhoea 
  • Sweating
  • Increased heart rate or palpitations
  • Trembling - shaking of hands and legs due to anxiety
  • Shortness of breath
  • Avoidance of situations or objects that are related to birds. Some people avoid outdoor activities because of the fear of birds.

Impact on daily life

Birds are everywhere, and avoiding them is not always possible. Therefore, if ornithophobia is left untreated, it can have a negative impact on a person’s day-to-day life in the following ways:

  • Someone with an extreme fear of birds may choose to stay at home where they feel safe, thereby restricting their participation in certain activities (e.g. outdoor social events). This can cause social isolation and could potentially lead to another phobia known as agoraphobia.
  • Occupational challenges may occur when people avoid certain types of work involving outdoor activities, which limits employment opportunities and causes financial difficulty.
  • Fear and self-restriction can cause feelings of low self-esteem and increased stress. This can lead to depression, which in turn, can increase the risk of self-harm and suicidal thoughts.
  • Substance use disorder (SUD): The stress associated with living with a severe phobia can lead to misuse of drugs or alcohol. Substance use disorder may be diagnosed if the pattern of substance use becomes problematic and causes distress or impairs a person’s functioning. SUD is a condition where a person uses certain substances that have addiction potential (alcohol, drugs, cocaine, cigarettes, etc.) and to which they develop tolerance and dependence.
  • People with ornithophobia can also have certain related fears such as: 

Management and treatment

Phobias are most often diagnosed and treated by a mental health professional such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. Initially, they ask about the symptoms and take a medical history. Commonly used treatment approaches include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, hypnotherapy, and medication: 

  1. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioural therapy is a structured and goal-oriented type of talking therapy that helps people manage their problems by changing the way they think and behave. It can be helpful for a range of mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, stress, coping with grief, and phobias. 

CBT is based on the understanding that our thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and behaviours are all interconnected. 

Through discussion, the therapist will encourage the patient to identify the negative thoughts they are having, the emotions, beliefs or the behaviour they are showing towards the object of their fear or phobia. The therapist will then help the patient understand how to respond to the negative thoughts and control the emotions. The psychologist shows the patient how they can adopt a positive thought process and change their perspective.

This therapy takes place over a limited number of sessions that are scheduled either once a week or once every two weeks.

  1. Exposure therapy

Exposure therapy is a type of cognitive behavioural therapy where the therapist creates a safe environment before the patient is gradually and repeatedly exposed to the object, situations, and activities that they fear. Exposure therapy helps people see that they are capable of confronting their fears and enables them to learn new, realistic beliefs about their fear and decrease avoidance.

  1. Hypnotherapy

Hypnotherapy uses hypnosis; a state of deep relaxation and focused concentration — to change habits or treat specific conditions. Aa trained hypnotherapist guides the patient into a deep state of focus and relaxation, which allows the patient to ignore normal distractions and be more open to suggestions to make changes to improve their mental health.3,4 

  1. Practise yoga or meditation

Practising yoga or meditation can help to manage and control fear. These techniques help to control breathing, reduce stress, and help to be calmer in situations relating to birds. Practising yoga or meditation daily helps reduce the negative thoughts and reactions you may have when faced with birds in the future and reduces the impact of ornithophobia on your life. 

  1. Medications

Anti-anxiety drugs or anti-depressants may be prescribed to help control anxiety symptoms as the patient undergoes therapy. They help in reducing some symptoms of ornithophobia and in reducing daily anxiety.

Overcoming ornithophobia

Overcoming ornithophobia involves:

  • Undergoing treatment for the phobia and understanding that treatment takes time and persistence
  • Self-education about the birds helps in reducing the fear of them.
  • Identifying and changing the negative thoughts and beliefs related to birds
  • Taking support from friends and family during treatment. Peer support or online support groups can also be helpful.
  • Implement lifestyle changes. For example, regular exercise and a proper diet help in maintaining regular sleep, which in turn helps in reducing stress

FAQs

Is ornithophobia curable?

Ornithophobia, like most other phobias, can be successfully treated in many cases through therapy or medication, or a combination of both. It takes time and persistence to overcome ornithophobia.

How common is ornithophobia?

Ornithophobia is classified as a simple phobia (a phobia that centres around a specific object, animal or situation). There are no exact statistics available on the prevalence of this phobia. Although fear of birds is not uncommon, ornithophobia is thought to be less common than other types of phobias.

When should I consult a doctor?

If the symptoms of your phobia are negatively impacting your day-to-day life and functioning or if you experience the following symptoms, you should consult a doctor:

  • Panic attacks
  • Persistent anxiety
  • Sleeplessness (insomnia)
  • Signs of depression

How long will I need therapy for?

Psychotherapy always takes time and persistence to get treated. It usually takes months or years of continuous therapy to overcome the phobia. The duration of cognitive behavioural therapy is usually between six and 20 sessions.

Summary

Ornithophobia is an extreme and irrational fear of birds. People with ornithophobia can experience intense anxiety at the mere thought of birds, and they may start avoiding situations or objects related to birds. Although the exact cause of ornithophobia is not known, it can affect all ages and genders, and it can be present due to a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. By taking proper treatment, the patient will overcome their phobia and can lead a normal lifestyle. 

References

  1. Daviu N, Bruchas MR, Moghaddam B, Sandi C, Beyeler A. Neurobiological links between stress and anxiety. Neurobiology of Stress [Internet]. 2019 Nov 1 [cited 2024 Jan 26];11:100191. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352289519300438  
  2. Podila SP, Sultana N. Zoophobia and Gender - A Case Study. International Journal of Scientific Research in Science and Technology [Internet]. 2019 Feb 1 [cited 2024 Feb 18];259–65. Available from: https://www.ijsrst.com/IJSRST196137 
  3. Papagianni V, Kotera Y. The beneficial effects of a single hypnotherapy session using parts negotiation for specific phobias. International Journal of Spa and Wellness [Internet]. 2022 Mar 31 [cited 2024 Feb 18];1–18. Available from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/24721735.2022.2049103#:~:text=As%20a%20single%20session%2C%20it,intervention%20for%20overcoming%20specific%20phobias
  4. S. Auna M. EFFECT OF HYPNOTHERAPY IN REDUCING PHOBIA SYMPTOMS. ijnms [Internet]. 2020 Jun 3 [cited 18Feb.2024];4(1):29-6. Available from: https://ijnms.net/index.php/ijnms/article/view/256 

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Anila Viijayan

Bachelor of Homoeopathic Medicine & Surgery, India

A homoeopathic physician with a wealth of knowledge accumulated through rigorous education and extensive clinical experience. Beyond confines of clinic, have expertise in conducting seminars, writing insightful articles, and actively participating in medical communities. Additionally, possesses a comprehensive understanding of medical insurance processes and managing health clinic solely.

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