ON PERMANENT BIRD WATCH

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By Jill Wild

It’s that time of year again when we all need to be on high alert. Those spiteful magpies have opened their dive bombing season declaring war on all who pass below them. Whilst I do understand that they are only carrying out their parental duties and protecting their young, its little comfort for us tormented souls who live with a mysterious thing called ornithophobia: the abnormal and irrational fear of birds.

Phobias are overwhelming and completely exhausting; I am on guard twenty-four-seven. My bird phobia is complex and would likely send the most accomplished therapist into a tailspin. I have no memory of any negative encounter with birds as a young child; so how did this noxious millstone weed its way into my psyche and succeed in creating so much havoc in my life?

Coping with a bird phobia on a daily basis is a constant battle. Unlike snakes and spiders, birds are everywhere.

They’re in our back yards, in parks, at beaches, at outdoor cafes; there’s really no escaping them. Eating out in a public space where they congregate poses a major challenge for me. Inevitably I will end up running for cover, leaving confused onlookers bemused and my sanity being questioned.

In 1963, the legendary Alfred Hitchcock made a movie called The Birds. Staring Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor, the film was classified as a horror-thriller. Set in California, it focuses on a series of unexplained violent bird attacks on the people of Bodega Bay. I’ve seen snippets of it and it sends chills down my spine. For anyone living with ornithophobia it’s the stuff of nightmares. Although only fictional, I wonder if Hitchcock had an underlying message for us about birds? Did he in fact believe that there really was something sinister lurking within the mindset of our feathered friends?

Over the years I’ve had many distressing bird encounters that have left me shaken. On a visit to the Melbourne Zoo a few years back, I was left stranded in one of the restaurants for hours when a group of peacocks decided to have a gathering at the outdoor eating area. Peacocks, Cassowaries and emus are right up there on my phobic hit list. I’m guessing that the restaurant staff were left wondering why I had in fact bothered coming to the Zoo at all, considering I spent most of the afternoon cooped up in their premises staring out the glass windows unable to make my exit.

There are numerous therapies for phobias, all of which I have tried with no success: cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy, hypnotherapy, and thought field therapy. I believe there may be more but at this stage I’m in no rush to try them. During my first visit to an acclaimed hypnotist, I was told that he would soon have me hand feeding seagulls at the beach; that thought sent shock waves through my body. Sadly for him he short-changed himself as I never returned. Thought field therapy known as ‘tapping therapy’ is a quirky one. It involves a series of tapping at various body locations whilst humming and counting in a structured sequence.

Perhaps I hummed the wrong tune or tapped the wrong spot because try as I may I could not tap my bird phobia away.

What makes my phobia so peculiar is that strangely enough I actually like birds. I’ve been an animal lover all my life and I wouldn’t dream of harming them. Even though they are considered pests, for over a year now, two Indian Mynas wait in the same spot every morning for their breakfast of the best quality bird seed. Of course I go nowhere near them.

There is also nothing that makes me happier than the sweet sound of a blackbird chirping away heralding in the start of Spring; I literally stop in my tracks. In the words of the song by the group OMC, “How bizarre, how bizarre”.

Whilst my phobia can sometimes drive me to despair there have been some amusing things that have occurred along with it. I owned a pet minding business for a number of years and one day I received a call that went something along these lines:

“Hello, I’m wondering if you mind birds? I have three aviaries of budgies and a pen of twenty chickens with one rather aggressive rooster. I’m also wondering if you feed magpies? I have ten pet ones that come to visit twice a day and I feed them mince meat”. “ Hmmmmmm… could I get back to you on that one”?

I am now resigned to the fact that my bird phobia is not going away any time soon. I have had to learn to be kind to myself and not be ashamed for having this challenging anomaly. Like the cliché says, ‘it is what it is’. Having said that, I am definitely open to any professional who would care to put this ‘thing’ of mine under the microscope and give me an explanation as to why I actually have it and maybe even offer me a miracle cure. Just don’t tell me though that your grand plan is to have me hand feeding seagulls down the beach at my first visit. At least save that till the second visit.

 

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