A Conspiracy of Birds

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Over the years I have received a lot of emails with questions about birds. Most are straightforward, concerning identification or behavior. But occasionally I receive an exceptionally weird one.

Probably the strangest question I have ever received was from a woman who said that in her home country (not the U.S.), birds would follow her. When she got out of her car, off the bus, off the train, birds would be there to follow her wherever she went. Then she moved to the U.S. and the same thing occurred – birds were following her every place she went. Her question was, how did the birds from her home country communicate with the birds in the U.S. that she needed to be followed? I think I answered that question with an unsympathetic “It’s your imagination.” I’m sure she was told that before by others, but I still don’t have an answer.

Then I got an email from a therapist who had a patient who swore that House Finches were after him. They swarmed around his house (according to him) and drove him out, so he set up camp in the woods. Lo and behold, they found him there as well and surrounded his campsite. The therapist wanted to know if House Finches participated in any such behavior.

Could these folks be suffering from Ornithophobia? That’s an abnormal and persistent fear of birds. Sufferers from ornithophobia experience undue anxiety about encountering and even being attacked by birds although they may realize their fears are quite irrational. Ornithophobia was epitomized in a 1963 film  directed by Alfred Hitchcock — The Birds. Birds suddenly start attacing people in ever-greater numbers and ever-greater viciousness in this memorable and very frightening movie. The word “ornithophobia” is derived from the Greek and “ornithos” (bird) and “phobos” (fear).

I’ve had bunches of emails where birds seem to be the villain, where crows or blackbirds are accused of chasing someone, owls or hawks attacking small dogs, and even had someone fear that a Great Blue Heron was going to snatch her baby. There may be a tiny bit of truth to these stories but then they get blown way out of proportion, “go viral” as they say. When the West Nile virus was in the news, I got frantic calls and emails from people who came in close contact with a bird, or their cat brought in a dead bird, fearing the virus. The West Nile Virus is transmitted by mosquitoes, so birds are reservoirs but cannot pass on the virus.

Today we hear lots of other rumors about the corona virus COVID-19 that are either exaggerated or totally untrue – like it is a devious plot by the Russians, or Democrats, or Muslims, that the death count is exaggerated for political reasons, that the virus is not contagious, and that any vaccine created for it will of course cause autism. Where do people get this stuff? There’s a lot of nonsense on the internet but it can easily be checked. As Judge Judy says “If it doesn’t make sense, it’s not true.”

Well, at least, for the time being, I’m thankful that birds aren’t being accused of spreading COVID-19.

3 thoughts on “A Conspiracy of Birds”

  1. I’m a retired Clinical Psychologist. Never heard of Ornithophobia, but the behavior you described with respect to birds following those two individuals sounds more like a psychotic delusion than a phobia (fear). I could envision that it may have started as a fear but progressed to a delusion. As for people’s crazy ideas about covid19, vaccines, etc., I believe there is a sort of mob mentality that results from cult-like devotion to unreliable sources of information. Just my 2 cents’ worth

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