Ornithophobia is a type of specific phobia involving an irrational fear of birds. The origin of the word ornitho is Greek meaning bird and phobia is Greek meaning fear. The fear of birds is not uncommon and it comes from the menacing and darker image of some birds of prey. Some people might only fear predatory birds, such as vultures, while others can even be afraid of household pets like budgies.

People who suffer from this phobia might fear that they will be attacked by a bird or might simply be uncomfortable around them. They would normally fear their fluttering wings, the way they move, the texture of the feathers, the way they fearlessly fly towards people looking for food, the fear of disease or any combination of these. Birds can also have a tendency to be loud, large, and menacing, and they can display little fear of humans.

The phobia itself causes sweating, nervousness, avoidance behavior, and heart palpitations. Without treatment the phobia can become life limiting. The fear of birds has been well-documented in poetry and films.

Like all animal phobias, it can commonly be traced back to a negative encounter with the feared animal. Many birds can be somewhat aggressive in hunting for food, and childhood run-ins with pigeons or seagulls bent on stealing snacks are common. Many people, whether or not they have a full-blown phobia, are cautious of snacking in areas with large populations of birds. Birds occasionally fly through open windows or down chimneys, causing chaos within the home. If the person suffering was nervous in such encounters, this could be enough to trigger a phobia.

Some symptoms include breathlessness, dizziness, excessive sweating, dry mouth, nausea, shaking, heart palpitations, the inability to speak or think clearly, a fear of dying, becoming mad or losing control, or a full-blown anxiety attack. When forced to confront a bird, the person might shake, cry, or even freeze in place. They may run away or make an attempt to hide. They might also experience anticipatory anxiety in the days before a likely confrontation with birds. In phobic individuals, the sight of a grey sky filled with birds that are cawing may be terrifying.

The majority of phobias trigger panic attack symptoms in the afflicted, and this is true of the ornithophobia as well. People who become agitated when birds are near have a tendency to stay away from situations where they will be present. As with many animal phobias, just the sight or the sound of birds can terrify people with this condition. It might also be a fear of being attacked by birds, although this does not commonly happen.

Image Caption: A Herring Gull (Larus argentatus), like a sniper, was waiting to strike and did. The photographer liked to have a picture from her Canadian uncle to show the way a prepared herring (maatje) has to be eaten. Credit: loki11/Wikipedia