Created By: Prfnoff on November 4, 2012 Last Edited By: MiloFranklin on November 10, 2012

Circling Vultures

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So you're hiking in the mountains, when suddenly, you misstep, slip down the cliff, hit your head on a rock(not hard enough to do permanent damage), drop your pack(filled with food, water, and the sleeping bag), and finally land at the base of the slope, with no way to get back up. So, you begin wandering. Eventually, as you begin to dehydrate, a frightening sight appears above you:

Vultures, circling their soon-to-be-dead prey.

In fiction, especially works for children, it's common for vultures to show up above a lost character to subtly imply that he/she's on the brink.

(Most of the examples below are taken from an old YKTTW, but I lost the OP that had the description. Someone needs to write one.)

Comic Books
  • In the Round Robin Comic Book DC Challenge Aquaman is stranded in the desert, dying of dehydration. (This is the "can only be away from water 60 minutes" version of Aquaman.) Vultures are circling. What can he do? Wait until one lands and then open it up and drink its blood - since blood is like 98% water, it counts.
  • In the EC Comics story "Carrion Death!" (Shock SuspenStories #9), a fugitive trudges through the desert for four days, handcuffed to the corpse of a state trooper he killed. He sees the vultures as his only chance to rid himself of the dead weight attached to his right arm, but after they have stripped the corpse clean he finds out that they do eat live flesh, too.

Film - Animated
  • Two vultures follow the Queen in her Wicked Witch disguise in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, as she goes to the cottage to get Snow White, and their presence alerts the Woodland Creatures that there is something seriously wrong about the "peddler woman" with her basket of apples. In the end, the vultures were not after Snow White at all, but after the Queen, and as she falls to her doom, the vultures slowly circle down after her.
  • In The Lion King, vultures swoop down on an exhausted Simba, but are dispersed by Timon and Pumbaa "bowling for buzzards".
  • Ice Age 2 had talking vultures circle the various creatures trying to escape the flood waiting for some to fail, leaving them with dinner.

Film - Live Action
  • In Conan the Barbarian (1982), one vulture actually tries to peck the crucified Conan. Conan bites its neck and chokes it.
  • They're not circling, but in Airplane! a bunch of vultures perch over the Heroes as they prepare to crash-land.
  • Happens in Carry On...Follow That Camel as the troops march across the desert from the dry oasis.

  • Dune. After Liet-Kynes is left in the desert to die, he sees hawks (the Dune equivalent of vultures) circling overhead.

Live-Action TV
  • Used on Bones at least a couple of times - once when they were looking for some remains and saw vultures circling so they knew that that's where the remains were, and once when they were lost in the desert and saw vultures circling over them.
  • On The Muppet Show, before performing the famous "Telephone Pole Bit", Fozzie tells Scooter that "we are gonna die" (meaning the skit is going to bomb), and as Scooter asks what makes him think that, the camera focuses on two vultures looking down on them.

  • In Porgy and Bess, a buzzard flying over Catfish Row is seen as a bad omen.
    "Boss, dat bird mean trouble. Once de buzzard fold his wing an' light over yo' house, all yo' happiness done dead."

Video Games
  • Used in Die Anstalt for one of Dolly's dream sequences, but the vultures are part-wolf.

Western Animation
  • In Arthur, this is used(and mentioned), as the Francine and Fern draw attention to the fact that there's vultures above them when they're lost in the mountains.
Community Feedback Replies: 13
  • November 4, 2012
    In Real Life, Kevin Carter won a pulitzer prize for his photograph of a starving child in the Sudan, with vulture waiting in the background. Following accusations of cruelty, for having not come to the child's aid, he took his own life at the age of 33.
  • November 4, 2012
    • All three branches of the CSI franchise have used the spot-the-vultures technique of locating human remains. Even New York, for a body on a rooftop.
      • Also, NCIS.

    • In the Dragaera novels, jhereg take the place of vultures for purposes of this trope. Loiosh and Rocza, seen circling Vlad's unconscious body in Tiassa, are mistaken for this by some guardsmen.
  • November 7, 2012

    In Capricorn One, one of the astronauts being hunted by government agents in the desert, delirious from heat and thirst, thinks he sees "birds" circling above him--and in the camera shot depicting his blurred vision, it does look like vultures circling. Turns out to be those Black Helicopters though.
  • November 7, 2012
    • There was a commercial a while back that had the Energizer Bunny going through a desert while vultures start circling over head. Eventually they collapse to the ground in exhaustion while the bunny, of course, keeps going, and going, and...
  • November 8, 2012
    • The Andromeda Strain (1971). When the SCOOP team approaches the town of Piedmont they see buzzards circling over the town - a Foreshadowing of the dead bodies they will find there.

    Watch it here.
  • November 8, 2012
    On the "Pecos Bill" segment of Melody Time, Bill meets his horse Widowmaker when he rescues him from circling vultures.
  • November 8, 2012
    Please rewrite the description without the Example As A Thesis.
  • November 8, 2012
  • November 8, 2012
    One newspaper cartoon by Andrzej Mleczko depicted a vulture sitting on a branch, looking down at a dying rhino: "I hope I am not bothering you, sir, I am just waiting for you to croak."
  • November 9, 2012
    During the animal's soccer game in Bedknobs And Broomsticks, vultures serve as medics, waiting on the sidelines for the referee (Mr. Brown) to be trampled by the players. A Running Gag is made of them rushing into the field to "treat" Mr. Brown, only to be waved away after he turns out to be alive.
  • November 9, 2012
    Real Life: Vultures (and other large birds) do circle but it can often be related to how they fly. Thermals are columns of hot air that these birds use to rise.
  • November 10, 2012
    The Far Side comic strip used vultures a lot (though not near as often as cows), including this one.
  • November 10, 2012
    ^ Now granted the above doesn't involve circling vultures, but it seems the gist of this trope is using vultures to indicate impending death (either seriously, or as a joke like in the above linked Far Side cartoon), as in they're waiting for someone to become food.