Phobias: Overcoming My Fear of Birds
My Irrational Fear of Birds
You know when you have a completely irrational fear and there is simply nothing you can do about it? Well, I have a few, such as the fear of heights, snakes, and the silliest one of all… birds. How can such majestic and relatively harmless creatures (for the most part) inspire fear?
Well, for me personally, it wasn’t the actual bird that I was scared of; it was the flapping of the wings. I can’t even try to describe why.
I just was.
I remember happily standing at a zoo in Virginia where I was taking a holiday in 2010, with a calm bird sitting on my hand. It was obviously used to visitors and the routine was the same every day for him, so it was a good way for me to face up to my irrational phobia. He was as good as gold, walking down my arm to my outstretched hand and feeding the milky solution that you are given to feed the birds with. He was calm and I was calm. No problem on that occasion then.
A Budgerigar: Example Subject of My Irrational Fear
My next experience was back home in England, at Chester Zoo. They have a bat sanctuary there that is in almost complete darkness when you first walk in through the plastic flaps that prevent the bats from escaping. I sat down on a bench for a while to orientate myself to the lighting and to try and rationalise my impending build-up of fear of the bats flying above me. Once I could see where I was going and the general layout of the inner sanctum, I started to see huge fruit bats everywhere!
The fear building as they flew around, I set off on the pre-determined path around the enclosure and tried to stay calm. I succeeded right up until the point where I arrived at a tunnel that is only just higher than a six feet tall man and somewhere between eight to ten feet wide. Bats were flying through this tunnel too and it took all my nerve to walk through. By the time I got to the end, I was a gibbering wreck, bent double and going as fast as I could, past small children who were enjoying their experience with these wonderful animals.
Needless to say by the time I had rushed outside to get a much-needed cigarette, I was thoroughly embarrassed by my actions. That is what irrational fear feels like though. No matter how much we know something isn’t likely to hurt us, it still frightens us.
Chester Zoo's Bat Cave: My Personal Hell
Facing My Fear
So, you can imagine my trepidation when my bird-loving wife was making suggestions that she would love to get a pet bird. I put off the thought until her birthday was coming around and decided to bite the bullet, grab the bull by the horns and be a sweet, loving husband (!)
I did a little research on what kind of birds make good pets and we went to a breeder of budgerigars in our town.
Walking into his aviary where there was row upon row of cages with ‘budgies’ as they are more commonly known here in the UK, was a little unnerving, but I had come this far and wasn’t going to back out now. He took out the young budgie we selected, put him in a carrier box, gave us some food and other goodies, which amounted to almost giving us the bird for free, and we went on our way with my phobia-in-a-box.
Once home, he was introduced, by my wife of course, to his new home – a cage big enough for three or four budgies – and there he remained for the first few days. He was named Loki, after the Norse God of mischief, which seemed very appropriate to me as I knew I was about to undergo a trial.
Acclimatizing to Each Other
Once Loki was accustomed to his new surroundings, Fran started leaving his door open. As his curiosity outgrew his own fears, he started to come to the door, and I started to get edgy.
Fran would hold out her hand and he eventually stepped onto it to take some of the food she was holding for him. At this point, I was at the other end of the couch, loving the fact that he was taking to his new flock member but at the same time, fervently hoping he wouldn’t fly anywhere near me.
Of course, he did, probably due to the nervousness of human contact for the first time.
He proceeded to fly around the room a couple of times and I had to stop myself from doing the same thing. I covered my head with my arms and listened to the flapping sound of little, feathered wings going by before he eventually settled on the curtain pole.
This may sound overly dramatic to you the reader, but I promise you, this was a very real fear for me, and I was doing my best to overcome it for the benefit of my wife to enjoy her feather-friend. If I’m honest, I was also relishing the thought of being forced to face this rather embarrassing fear that had me so debilitated at Chester Zoo’s bat sanctuary too.
As the days passed, he started to come out of his cage more and more, but always seemed to fly up to the curtain pole and avoid contact with us. This meant that come bedtime, we had the task of removing him from the curtain pole and getting him into his cage, which I would leave for Fran to do, for obvious reasons.
Then the first breakthrough was made, for both Loki and I.
I decided to be a big brave soldier and put some seed in my hand and get him to step onto my hand. For some strange reason, from that moment on, I became ‘his human’ as Fran calls it. He decided to adopt me into his flock and I slowly got accustomed to his occasional wing flaps or helicopter sorties around the living room.
Long story short, I have overcome my fear of birds with Loki’s help, and we now share the same space without an issue and his vocabulary mostly consists of words that start with “Daddy’s” and a random noun attached.
For some time this attachment he had to me, prevented my wife from being able to enjoy ‘her’ pet, due to the jealousy that he manifested whenever she came near me. He would peck at her quite spitefully whenever she tried to become one of his flock. I am glad to report that just over a year after acquiring him we are now all completely familiarised with each other and a happy little family together.
It was only whilst researching this article that I discovered that this fear of mine actually had a name – Ornithophobia, although that isn’t quite correct, as my fear wasn’t of the bird itself, but rather the flapping of the wings.
Close enough to count as a recognised phobia though, and interestingly, it seems to run through the genes of my family, with both my mother, sister and son afflicted with the same fear.
They refuse to let me get him out of the cage when visiting, although I have got my granddaughter used to him and whilst still nervous, she will allow Loki to land on her head. Maybe this is the start of the McKay family breeding out this fear?
I certainly hope so.
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