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What to Know About Fear of Birds

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 25, 2021

Many people live with the challenge of a phobia. Fear of birds (ornithophobia) – causes some people to have symptoms of anxiety. As a result they avoid birds, even when they know their feelings are exaggerated or irrational. 

People with simple phobias can seek treatment to get better. This usually therapy and techniques to encourage relaxation and ease anxiety. 

Symptoms of Fear of Birds

People with a fear of birds experience physical symptoms when birds are nearby. Some have a reaction to just thinking about birds.

Similar to other types of phobia symptoms, common symptoms of ornithophobia include:

  • Nausea
  • High heart rate or palpitations
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Upset stomach

Many people who live with ornithophobia and other phobias recognize the fear is perhaps exaggerated and unreasonable. That can lead to feelings of shame. People who fear birds may avoid them, not only to avoid the trigger, but also out of feelings of embarrassment about their condition. 

How Is Fear of Birds Different From Other Phobias?

Phobias generally fall under one of three major types:

Specific phobia – simple phobia. Specific, or simple, phobia is a phobia about a specific animal, environment, or situation. This is where ornithophobia is categorized – fear of a specific animal.

Social anxiety disorder. This is a fear of social situations where someone might feel embarrassment or as if they are being judged by other people. This is especially true when there are unfamiliar people involved. 

A person with ornithophobia may not fear social situations directly, but they may have feelings of humiliation in front of strangers for having a fear of birds.

Agoraphobia. This is fear of public spaces where it is difficult to leave quickly and without being noticed.

Someone who fears birds may avoid being where birds are. They may also avoid pictures, discussions, or thoughts of birds. Additionally, they may have symptoms of social anxiety if they are concerned how others may react to their ornithophobia. 

What Causes a Fear of Birds?

Doctors aren't sure exactly what causes ornithophobia. But there is evidence that specific phobias like this may be inherited. 

Some people have trauma that leads to a fear of birds. A negative encounter with birds can cause ongoing fear, even if a person forgets what happened. Others adopt the fear of birds from a parent or sibling who modeled this behavior. 

How Long Can Fear of Birds Last?

Childhood phobias tend to start between the ages of 5 and 9 and get better as the child grows older. Adult phobias often start in the 20s, and they tend to stay with a person for much longer. In fact, 80% of adult phobias do not go away without treatment.

Treatment for Fear of Birds

Many people with ornithophobia can find relief for the symptoms. The most common method of treating a specific phobia like a fear of birds is cognitive-behavioral therapy. This is therapy that teaches you how to deal with negative thoughts in a healthy way.  

Either on your own or working with a professional, you can start desensitization, or exposure therapy. This can include:

  1. Looking at pictures of birds. 
  2. Watching television shows, like nature programs, that feature birds.
  3. Observing birds from a distance, like at a bird sanctuary or reserve.
  4. Being in areas where birds gather together, like parks or beaches.

As you increase your exposure to birds, you can work with a therapist to ease your anxiety about them. Some options they may recommend include:

  • Deep breathing
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Talking about your fears as you experience them
  • Anti-anxiety medications

Over time, as you have more awareness of birds in a calm and relaxed setting, your ornithophobia should go away, but there's no timetable on this. Take your time and allow your symptoms to relieve gradually. 

If you live with a fear of birds, you are not alone. Many people live with the challenge of phobias. There are steps you can take on your own and with medical assistance that can lead to relief.

Be sure to talk with a doctor or therapist if you are having a difficult time managing a fear of birds.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Harvard Health Publishing: "Ask the Doctor: How does someone overcome fear of dogs?" "Phobia."

NHS: "Overview - Phobias."

Penn State University: "Fears Episode 18: Ornithophobia.”

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