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[[quoteright:350:[[TabletopGame/MagicTheGathering http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/2014_circling_vultures4.png]]]]

->''"Look, birds! ...why are they flying around in circles?"''
-->-- '''Caboose''', ''Machinima/RedVsBlue''

In fiction, when a character, especially one wandering through a ThirstyDesert, 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 RealLife, 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 CirclingBirdies even though vultures are birds.

!!'''As a DeathTrope, 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...
* One phone commercial has a guy waiting for his phone to connect, while someone using the product being advertised sits next to him and goes through what needs to be done in a few seconds. When he walks away, a pair of vultures settle next to the guy with the slow connection.

[[AC:{{Anime}} & {{Manga}}]]
* Although it's not a direct example, the sequence in ''[[Anime/NeonGenesisEvangelion End of Evangelion]]'' when the [[MonstrousHumanoid MP Evas]] are air dropped into the geofront is obviously intended to {{invoke|dTrope}} this.
* In ''Anime/{{Voltron}}'' episode "Footsteps in the Forest of Fear", while Allura, Nanny and the maids were picking berries they notice some birds flew away and decided to head back, but were too late as they were surrounded by Lotor's monster trees. Later, the rest of the Voltron Force spotted birds circling above the forest, knowing it means danger.

* In the Creator/ECComics 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.
* In the RoundRobin ComicBook ''ComicBook/DCChallenge'', ComicBook/{{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. [[{{Cliffhanger}} 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.

* ''Fanfic/TheLionKingAdventures'' features an example of this in ''Growing Pains''. In this story, Simba keeps rapidly ageing, eventually falling unconscious in the middle of the flatlands due to becoming too old. The vultures close in on him, circling overhead. He just manages to claw his way to safety under the shade of a tree.

[[AC:{{Film}} - Animated]]
* ''WesternAnimation/IceAge2TheMeltdown'' had [[TalkingAnimal talking vultures]] circle the various creatures trying to escape the flood waiting for some to fail, leaving them with dinner.
* In ''Disney/TheLionKing'', vultures swoop down on an exhausted Simba, but are dispersed by Timon and Pumbaa "bowling for buzzards".
* Two vultures follow the Queen in her Wicked Witch disguise in ''Disney/SnowWhiteAndTheSevenDwarfs'', as she goes to the cottage to get Snow White, and their presence alerts the WoodlandCreatures 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 [[DisneyVillainDeath falls to her doom]], the vultures slowly circle down after her. Though they may be aware the Queen was trying to poison Snow White when they seem eager as the Queen was offering Snow White.
* In ''BeavisAndButtheadDoAmerica'', Beavis and Butthead wander off into the desert in an idiotic attempt to try and reach Washington D.C on foot (from ''New Mexico!'') and end up slowly dying from dehydration (after briefly stumbling across two drifters who are heavily implied to be their long-lost fathers). Sure enough, the vultures show up. One even attempts to gnaw on Beavis while he's still alive.
--> '''Beavis''': Cut it out, butthole! *smacks it away*
** While very near death, they still take a moment to giggle at two of the vultures having sex. [[spoiler: They're eventually found by Muddy, the movies BigBad who "rescues" them just so he can shoot them]]

[[AC:{{Film}} - Live Action]]
* They're not circling, but in ''Film/{{Airplane}}'' a bunch of vultures perch over the Heroes as they prepare to crash-land.
* ''Film/TheAndromedaStrain'' (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 ''Film/BedknobsAndBroomsticks'', vultures serve as medics, waiting on the sidelines for the referee (Mr. Brown) to be trampled by the players. A RunningGag is made of them rushing into the field to "treat" Mr. Brown, only to be waved away after he turns out to be alive.
* During his escape through the jungle in ''Film/TheBridgeOnTheRiverKwai'', Shears notices a couple of vultures waiting for him to die.
* Subverted in ''Film/CapricornOne''. 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 Helicopter}}s though.
* Happens in ''Film/CarryOnInTheLegion'' as the troops march across the desert from the dry oasis.
* ''Film/TheCaveOfTheYellowDog'': Some vultures, who don't have any carrion handy, start circling a lost toddler who is very much alive.
* In ''Film/ConanTheBarbarian1982'', one vulture actually tries to peck the crucified Conan. Conan bites its neck and chokes it.
* In ''Film/DesertNights'' jewel thieves Steve and Diana rob a diamond mine's safe, kidnap Hugh the mine foreman, and escape into the desert. The escape goes bad in a ThirstyDesert. Hugh makes sure that they notice the vultures circling overhead, waiting to eat them.
* Cartoon vultures appear out of nowhere directly after a character is killed in ''Film/TerrorToons''.

%% * ''Literature/DalzielAndPascoe'': Parodied in ''Pictures of Perfection''.
* In the ''Literature/{{Dragaera}}'' novels, jhereg take the place of vultures for purposes of this trope. Loiosh and Rocza, seen circling Vlad's unconscious body in ''Literature/{{Tiassa}}'', are mistaken for this by some guardsmen.
* ''Literature/{{Dune}}''. After Liet-Kynes is left in the desert to die, he sees hawks (the Dune equivalent of vultures) circling overhead.
* These are the first clue to the fate of Duke Jared's army in ''High Deryni''. It isn't pretty.
* ''Literature/SardHarker'': During his trek through the wilderness, Harker has an encounter with a trio of vultures, which first perch menacingly then circle overhead.
* In ''Literature/TheYearling'', this is how Jody finds the orphaned fawn. The vultures are circling over the carcass of its mother.

* Used on ''Series/{{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.
** Once when they were lost in the desert and saw vultures circling over them.
* All three branches of the ''Series/{{CSI|Verse}}'' franchise have used the spot-the-vultures technique of finding human remains. ''Series/{{CSINY}}'': In "No Good Deed", vultures circling a body on a rooftop lead investigators to it after a long search.
%% * ''Series/{{NCIS}}'' has also used this.
* ''Series/DinosaurRevolution'': In the ''Protoceratops'' story. Well, it's more like circling ''Azhdarchids''...
* On ''Series/TheMuppetShow'', 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.
* An episode of ''Series/TalesFromTheCrypt'' (inspired by the "Carrion Death" example in comic books) ended with an escaped convict [[AndIMustScream paralyzed in the middle of the desert, about to be eaten alive by vultures]].

* ''Music/EgoLikeness'': The first verse of ''Aviary''.
--> In come the vultures/Through dusty air/To take you down and/Tear the ribbons from your hair
* In the video for "White America" by Music/{{Eminem}}, vultures are circling around the corpse of a man who had evidently been hung by a lynch mob for saying the "wrong" things.
* "I'll Shoot The Moon" by Music/TomWaits from ''Music/TheBlackRider'':
--> ''A vulture circles over your head for you baby''
* James Blunt's "You're Beautiful" features a variant, with Blunt's character briefly looking up to see a flock of seagulls (which, like vultures, are scavengers) circling over him as he's about to throw himself off of a cliff.
* Music/WesleyWillis wrote a song called "The Vultures Ate My Dead Ass Up".
--> Once upon a time, a team of hungry birds came down on a dead body.

* The subject of several gags in ''ComicStrip/TheFarSide'':
** One example being a depiction of "the perils of improper circling": two of the vultures bonk heads in mid-air.
** Another strip cartoon has a parched desert traveler crawling his way towards a pool of water. This prospect disappoints one vulture hovering above him, but a second vulture prepares to [[PianoDrop drop a piano on him]] before he reaches it.
* 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."

* ''TabletopGame/DungeonsAndDragons'' module B8 ''Journey to the Rock''. When the {{PC}}s 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 ''Theatre/PorgyAndBess'', 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."

* Used in ''VideoGame/DieAnstalt'' for one of Dolly's dream sequences, but the vultures are part-wolf.
* In ''VideoGame/KingsQuestVAbsenceMakesTheHeartGoYonder'', two vultures descend if Graham dies of thirst in the desert.
* In ''VideoGame/DiscworldII'' one puzzle involves vultures hovering over a piece of carrion. [[spoiler:Hide a rotting severed arm among the trader's goods and watch vultures to see where he keeps going.]]
* In ''VideoGame/TheLegendOfZeldaALinkToThePast'', in the Desert of Mystery, vultures leave their cactus perch and circle around Link. During the ending credits, vultures in the desert circle around the Master Locksmith, the Average Middle-Aged Man.
* In ''VideoGame/LordsOfXulima'', circling vultures are a common background element in the [[ThirstyDesert Varaskel desert region]]. Typically they're circling around some sun-bleached bones, too...
* A gameplay mechanic in ''Videogame/{{Evolve}}''. Every time the monster eats there is a chance of spawning these. While the first two meals have a 0% chance, those odds increase until the eighth has a 100% chance. The odds reset to a lower number every time birds spawn. Unlucky players may trigger these with every meal while others may never see them.

* In ''Webcomic/FarOut'', a vulture comes to look at our wandering main character. Despite his being a robot and so slightly inedible.
* In one ''Webcomic/KevinAndKell'' 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.

* After Caboose acidentally kills Church with a tank in ''Machinima/RedVsBlue'', he tries to cheer him up. ''"Look, birds! ...why are they flying around in circles?"''
* ''Blog/TetrapodZoology''

* In ''WesternAnimation/{{Arthur}}'', this is used (and mentioned), as Francine and Fern draw attention to the fact that there are vultures above them when they're lost in the mountains.
* In ''WesternAnimation/AvatarTheLastAirbender'', the group gets lost in the desert and thinking of ways to find a way out, while Sokka is still tripping on cactus juice. ''"Why don't we ask the circle birds?"''
* The PteroSoarer Scrapadactyls from ''WesternAnimation/{{Dinotrux}}'' will often circle above injured Dinotrux, making it easy to find someone in need of rescue.
* In the "Pecos Bill" segment of ''Disney/MelodyTime'', Bill meets his horse Widowmaker when rescuing him from circling vultures.
* ''WesternAnimation/MarchOfTheDinosaurs'': Well, it's more like circling ''Azhdarchids''...
* Invoked in the "Royal Canadian Kilted Yaksmen Anthem" from ''WesternAnimation/TheRenAndStimpyShow'':
-->"And the buzzards they soar overhead,\\
And poisonous snakes will devour us whole,\\
Our bones will bleach in the sun!"
* In ''WesternAnimation/GravityFalls'' episode "Northwest Mansion Mystery", the introduction of the town's century-old mayor has him followed by a few of these. He doesn't seem all that bothered by their presence. "That's okay, they're with me."
** In "The Love God", Robbie is lying in an open grave and mopes loudly about how much he misses Wendy. A vulture shows up, and Robbie tells it to just go ahead and eat him already. Once it does, however, he quickly backtracks.
--> '''Robbie''': OW! I was just being dramatic! VULTURE!!

* 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]]According to other witnesses' accounts, this all happened a few tens of meters from the feeding center, where the child's parents were receiving corn. Also Carter chased the vulture away after making the photos.[[/note]]