In fiction, when a character, especially one wandering through a Thirsty Desert
, seems on the brink of death, vultures may be seen circling overhead or perching menacingly nearby, waiting for their prey to collapse and die.
In 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.
Not to be confused with Circling Birdies
even though vultures are birds.
As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.
- There was a commercial that had the Energizer Bunny going through a desert while vultures start circling overhead. Eventually they collapse to the ground in exhaustion while the bunny, of course, keeps going, and going, and...
Film - Animated
- 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. The fugitive 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 - Live Action
- 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.
- In Conan the Barbarian, 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.
- Subverted 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.
- 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.
- During the animals' 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.
- Cartoon vultures appear out of nowhere directly after a character is killed in Terror Toons.
- Dune. After Liet-Kynes is left in the desert to die, he sees hawks (the Dune equivalent of vultures) circling overhead.
- 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.
- Dalziel and Pascoe: Parodied in Pictures of Perfection.
- Sard Harker: During his trek through the wilderness, Harker has an encounter with a trio of vultures, which first perch menacingly then circle overhead.
- Used on Bones at least a couple of times - once when the heroes 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.
- All three branches of the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation franchise have used the spot-the-vultures technique of finding human remains. Even New York, for a body on a rooftop.
- An episode of Tales from the Crypt (inspired by the "Carrion Death" example in comic books) ended with an escaped convict paralyzed in the middle of the desert, about to be eaten alive by vultures.
- Dinosaur Revolution: In the Protoceratops story. Well, it's more like circling Azhdarchids...
- 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."
- The subject of several gags in The Far Side, one example being a depiction of "the perils of improper circling": two of the vultures bonk heads in mid-air.
- Dungeons & Dragons module B8 Journey to the Rock. When the PCs reach the Cave of Sanctuary they will see sinister vultures circling lazily overhead: they're about to snack on the body of a recently killed gnome.
- In Far Out, a vulture comes to look at our wandering main character. Despite his being a robot and so slightly inedible.
- In one Kevin And Kell strip Ms Aura (a school teacher and a turkey buzzard) is circling above Rudy's homework. Rudy and Bruno comment that this isn't a good sign.
- Kevin Carter won a Pulitzer Prize for his photograph of a starving child in the Sudan, with a vulture waiting in the background. After accusations of cruelty for failing to come to the child's aid, Carter took his own life at the age of 33.note