I am running zigzag across an open field. I scream and try to cover my head. The thing above me that set this frenzy in motion is still up there, still coming at me, still following me. My mother, who is a few yards from me, waves her arms, frantically, all the while laughing. I cannot be sure whether she is trying to protect me or enjoying my distress at a pigeon trying to land on my head.
It’s a nightmare scenario which might make you think I was a frightened young child and to have sympathy for her. However, to realize it is a woman in her early twenties and that I am recalling a memory and not recounting a dream might shock you. I recognize that children have irrational fears, but that is part of childhood innocence that makes the unusual sometimes frightening. Those childhood fears usually fade, but some don’t. Mine intensified as I aged and became a full-fledged phobia.
According to healthline.com, The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that ornithophobia is not as uncommon as you might think. Quite often a bird phobia is the result of a negative experience in childhood. That is what my mother thought caused mine. When I was 36 months old, I was 36 inches tall and weighed 36 pounds. An adult leghorn chicken can be as tall as 18 inches, which would have been half my height. We lived with my grandfather on his farm for a while. He had chickens wandering lose in the yard. One day Mom gave me a sandwich and sent me outside to play. One big hen decided my sandwich was to be her meal. She came at me, but I held my sandwich above my head. The chicken was just as determined to get that sandwich as I was to keep it. She flew up at me trying to get it. Screaming as only a frightened three-year-old can, I got away and ran back to the house.
I do believe that incident contributed to if it did not cause the terror underlying my experiences with birds, which have always been terrifying in the moment, but sometimes humorous to look back on.
I could tell you many such incidents as my running from that pigeon in the open field, but one more should suffice to explain how my reactions can be an embarrassment.
Between high school and college, I worked in the local Five and Ten Store. I worked the stationary counter, keeping it stocked and seeing that everything was in place. The job wasn’t bad, except an aisle over was the bird and fish department. At first, I was expected to assist people there when the regular clerk had a day off. I explained my situation to the supervisor; she told me it was expected as part of the job. I said sorry, I really can’t handle that. Then she told me I could find someone else whenever a bird needed to be taken from the cage. Thank goodness we didn’t sell many birds. It was difficult to hunt down a willing helper when necessary. Everyone knew that a bird fear was just silly and that I was being a difficult co-worker.
That is until one day a bird got loose in the store. I was working on my counter, stacking packages of index cards or some similarly very important task. I heard a fluttering sound and looked up just as a parakeet flew directly at my head. I dropped to the floor screaming, “BIRD! BIRD! BIRD!” Well that got some attention. I was sent from the floor crying nearly hysterically. Not long after that, I was fired.
All did end well. That was the push I needed to get me busy applying to college, and I was away learning to do jobs that didn’t involve birds or unnecessary straightening of paper goods.