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Circling Birdies

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Why pay ten cents when you can see stars for free?

"Hah! By hitting me in the head, you've only granted me several small familiars!"

An animated character who has been stunned, usually by blunt head trauma, will display a "halo" of twittering birds or twinkling stars orbiting their head at or above eyebrow level. Sometimes it's just circles or whirls spinning around. This is a cartoon representation of "seeing stars." Upon recovery, the character will usually brush them away with an impatient or brusque sweep of their hands.

It is not uncommon for circling stars to sound like birds (cuckoo is very commonly added, although it's usually the cuckoo clock variation instead of the realistic version), even if it makes no sense. Similarly, this trope often occurs in live-action instances with just the sound effects of birds.

Occasionally, more idiosyncratic "satellites" will circle the character, usually related to either their personality or the task they were trying to accomplish when they were stunned. Unrelated to Circling Vultures, which foretell a rather worse fate than a mild concussion.


May also go with Non Sequitur, *Thud*. Compare Concussions Get You High. Catching Some Z's is a similar visual effect for characters who went night-night the usual way.

An example of Editorial Synaesthesia.

Example subpages

    Asian Animation 
  • The Lamput episode "Alien" does a variation on this trope. Lamput, Slim Doc, and Fat Doc accidentally invade an alien's spaceship; at one point, the alien accidentally destroys the ship's control panel trying to shoot the three unwanted guests, sending the ship flying up into space and causing it to bounce off of several planets. All of the planets get rings of circling stars around them after being hit... except for Saturn, which already had a ring.
  • In Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf, this happens multiple times to various characters, with numerous variants such as circling stars and circling wolf heads.

    Comic Books 
  • This is a common gag in Asterix:
    • In Astérix and the Great Crossing, a KO'd native American sees American stars. In the same book, another native American sees all the stars from the American flag.
    • In another book, an Egyptian sees hieroglyphs of birds.
  • Archie Comics:
    • Archie Comics will sometimes have Archie dazed after a fight, and seeing, not just basic birds, but rather specific ones, such as Red-Winged Blackbird or Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker, twittering and circling his head.
    • One instance has Dilton fall off a skateboard while listening to headphones, commenting on how the track suddenly sounds like birds chirping.
  • Not actually shown, but Kate Kane mentions she's seeing these just after her girlfriend punches her out in a boxing match in Batwoman (Rebirth).
  • The Warrior Cats graphic novels use Bloodless Carnage, in contrast to their violently heavy source. In A Clan in Need, Sorrelpaw is supposed to be severely injured, but she doesn't look remotely injured. Not even her fur is messed up. The only sign of her being injured is her lethargic behavior and the stars circling around her head.
  • All-New Ultimates: Miles Morales saw stars when Taskmaster attacked him.
  • Flare has a variation with Arcanna. The Dash runs over her while he's trapped in her magical containment sphere, leaving her with circling bats.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: When Diana knocks out Mars in issue 5 he's shown on his back with a dove circling over his head.

    Fan Works 
  • Examples from ''The Calvinverse:
  • My Little Mages: The Nightmare's Return: Fie-Doe sees birds after Roh-Ver beats him up at one point. Then he hits him again, and they change into stars.
  • Earth and Sky: Happens several times to the point of being a Running Gag. For instance, after Soarin' finally kicks Shootin' Star's flanks, the latter sees miniature Soarins circling his head while hitting bells with sledgehammers.
  • To put this straight, Chapter 11 of Carry On, Blissey, there is one part where Matron Blissey mentions imagining seeing stars around her head.
  • During Chapter 8 of Olimar's Experiences on Guard Duty, Roy sees stars when Kirby 2 hits Roy with a tuna fish.
  • From the Star Trek: Voyager Parody Fic "A Fistful of Mammary Gland".
    Seven took a hefty swig of her drink and immediately began to see stars, which her cortical processor made a vain effort to catalogue.
  • A literal case happens in Harry is a Dragon, and That's Okay, when Fred and George pulls a cracker that exploded with enough force to knock the two flat. The cracker produced a couple of canaries that circled over the twins' heads for a while before flying off.

  • Discworld:
    • In the novel Moving Pictures, one of the minor side effects that the motion picture industry has on the Disc's flexible reality level is that tweeting birds appear over the head of a wizard with concussion.
    • In The Science of Discworld, Ridcully mentions a wizard who "died of planets" (which presumably orbited his head).
  • In Search The Sky, by Frederik Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth, there's a scene where Ross is made to Talk to the Fist.
    He brought up a roundhouse right, and Ross saw the stars and heard the birdies.
  • In Amelia Bedelia Digs In, one of the Young Amelia Bedelia chapter books, Amelia's father bonks his head and says that he's seeing stars. Amelia Bedelia doesn't understand, so he explains "stars like in the cartoons."
    Amelia: So right this minute, little planets and chirping birds are circling your head?
    Alice: (Amelia's friend) Ouch! That must hurt.
    Amelia's father: Tell me about it.
    Amelia: She just did.

    Music Videos 
  • A cartoonized version of Cyndi Lauper experiences these when she's thrown from a motorcycle during the animated sequence in "She Bop".
  • Aaron Carter's music video for "That's How I Beat Shaq" uses bird sound effects near the end after Aaron's mother asks him whether he had hit his head.
  • 2-D from Gorillaz sees stars and a few other symbols circling his head twice after being violently shaken in the short "Hey, Our Toys Have Arrived."
  • Katy Perry sees stars circling her head after a basketball bonks her in the head in her music video for "Swish Swish."
  • The stars variation appears in two music videos directed by the Fantastic Heat Brothers - "Matzoh Ball (Don't Kick It)" by The Macaroons and twice in "I'm a Puck" by The Zambonis.


    Web Animation 
  • In the video "Cucumbers" by Weebl, a cucumber attacked by a panda has stars circling its head.
  • The Annoying Orange: Orange gets hit on the head by Cantaloupe, and has stars flying around his head. Then two cartoon-like birdies turn up complaining that the stars are stealing their jobs. Later, Midget Apple gets hit on the head as well, and the stars turn up again. But this time, the birds get really angry and start beating up the stars.
  • Happens to Strong Bad at the end of the Homestar Runner toon "Marshmallow's Last Stand" as a result of him being tripped by Homestar for ripping up the star on his shirt after a fight. Homestar then takes one of the stars circling Strong Bad's head and places it on his own shirt. Earlier in the toon, Strong Bad sees stars after Homestar body slams him.
  • RWBY:
    • In the "Yellow" trailer, when Yang knocks Junior across the room with a punch, he has hearts circling his head.
    • In the episode "Players and Pieces" when Jaune collides with Ruby, knocking her against a tree. However, wolves are used instead of birds (complete with barking sounds).
    • RWBY Chibi eventually used actual birds. Crows, to be precise, as it was the effect of Qrow punching Cardin silly.
  • TF2 Analysis:
    • In "Mission Unpossible", after falling down a shaft and leaving an Impact Silhouette in the floor, a stunned ILoveKimPossibleAlot sees circling... Kim Possibles.
    • Twice in "Double Rainbow":
      • Firebrand, after crashing through a wall and his bubble forcefield fails him, see circling stars and lets out a Non Sequitur, *Thud*.
      • Jasper, running away from Twink in the desert, trips and knocks himself out, with three little Twinks then circling his head.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Circling Stars


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