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Disturbed Doves

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"*spitting noises* What's with all these doves? Did he go overboard with the theatrics again?"
Nagi Springfield, Negima! Magister Negi Magi

A Stock Visual Metaphor: when something significant happens, expect to see birds flying off, especially white ones, especially pigeons (biologically the same thing as doves). These birds are likely to suffer from Perpetual Molt. This is Truth in Television as flocks of trained pigeons are sometimes incorporated into ceremonies such as weddings and flag retreats. And if the action involved movement, it might startle any nearby birds into flight. Also, doves and pigeons tend to clatter their wings together as they take off, making a distinctive sound that adds to the dramatic effect.

Frequently subverted; not to be confused with the Bat Scare, in which flying creatures are symbolic of abandonment if anything. See also Foreboding Fleeing Flock, which is about flocks of birds fleeing the scene being a sign of something bad about to happen.

Similar to That Poor Cat and its automotive equivalent, That Poor Car. Pesky Pigeons is the malevolent version in which pigeons are portrayed as annoying or predatory birds. Related to Doves Mean Peace.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Used once in the anime adaptation of Dragon Ball Z during the Cell Games arc. Perfect Cell decides to bring out Gohan's hidden power by provoking him to anger through the torture of his friends and the murder of his ally. He gets his wish and Gohan's breaking point is symbolized by a flight of doves behind his eyes.
  • The main characters of R.O.D the TV have a pet pigeon named John Woo. Enough said.
  • In Cowboy Bebop:
    • When Julia dies, the doves go flying. In slow motion, no less! For some reason, the doves stayed still through the running gunfight until Julia gets hit.
    • The frequent flapping and squawking of Vicious' pet bird during the Cathedral fight scene, and the dove flyby over Spike's dead body.
  • Spoofed in the FLCL episode "Burabure" ("Brittle Bullet"). Naota and his grandfather are watching a pastiche of John Woo movies where a melodramatic death scene ("Brother! I'm a runaway bullet train after all!" "Brother! Don't you die on me now!") is interrupted when the non-dying character is overwhelmed by a flock of Disturbed Doves. (For those who didn't get the joke, the dub adds the line "What are all these pigeons doing in here?") The doves then fly out of the TV set after Kamon is sent crashing into the room and breaks the TV.
  • Blue Drop anime does this a lot, too, except that it's mostly seabirds rather than doves.
  • One of the signature poses of Golgo 13 has him standing in a field of doves taking flight.
  • In the beginning of Blue Exorcist, Rin is standing in the park with mutilated pigeons at his feet as other pigeons fly right past his face and into the morning sky. The dead pigeons were not his fault, but he had just beaten up the guys who did and drove them away.
  • The climactic scenes of the first two Patlabor movies feature large flocks of seagulls.
  • Maison Ikkoku Episode 20: Kyoto denies feeling lonely while Godai is away at his hometown for New Years, and he keeps delaying his return. Then she meets Kozue (interesting how the two women in the Love Triangle get along so well) and they start talking about Godai, and how he hasn't come back yet. Kozue then says "I'm lonely". A moment to take in Kyoko's reaction- and the suddenly a bunch of pigeons take flight (and they watch them go, possibly combining this with the bird of lost love?) First time through it seems a little off, but looking back that was a very important moment when Kyoko realizes that she is lonely, and that Godai has become an important part of her life (even if it's not romantic).
  • This happened to Negi in Negima! Magister Negi Magi after Albireo used his shapeshifter item to become Nagi for ten minutes, the titular character's Disappeared Dad. Nagi complained about Albireo's needless theatrics upon appearing.
  • RahXephon has a minor example in the first episode with "Reika" surrounded by pigeons. This in turn recreates a scene with Haruka surrounded by seagulls.
  • In Dear Brother, Nanako tells Fukiko in a church about her intention to leave the Sorority. As if flying doves weren't enough, one dove CRASHES THROUGH A STAINED GLASS WINDOW.
  • Ouran High School Host Club in the beginning of the first episode. Haruhi walks down the school hallway and she passes a huge window while a flock of doves fly by. At the time she was thinking about her late mother. This is also her first day at Ouran and not long before she stumbles into the Host Club, an event that changes her life (and kicks off the rest of the series).
  • Almost every episode of Mitsudomoe includes a scene where someone screams, cut to a picture of their house and a bunch of crows flying away.
  • In Future GPX Cyber Formula, this happens outside the hospital where Osamu is staying when Hayato's mother tells him that his father is dead, which results in his Heroic BSoD.
  • Fist of the North Star does this with the conclusion of Raoh's battle against Toki.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! ARC-V, when Shun Kurosaki draws his last card in his battle royale duel against Masumi, Hokuto, and Yaiba, the action generates a gust of wind that scares the birds away. The other three are suitably freaked out, and with good reason when Shun defeats them all at once.


  • Homecoming, 2026: Birds fly off when a bell breaks a silence:
    Mounted below the cameras on the pole was a bell.
    The silence of the afternoon was interrupted when the bell rang three times. A small flock of birds took to the air, startled by the sound. The clearing fell silent for a few moments before the two adults and two of the teenagers appeared. Rather than warping into the middle of the pad, they were clustered around a sturdy maple tree on the opposite side of the pole from the pad.

    Films — Animated 
  • Appleseed Ex Machina: The doves are even slightly relevant to the plot,, since they are not actually real birds but rather radio re-transmitters disguised as such by the villain. Come think of it, it might have even been a twisted meta-Red Herring: the viewers are expected to know what doves mean in John Woo movies already and to assume that this is also the case here, failing to connect the dots until The Reveal. Evil.
  • The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part: Discussed. Queen Watevra suggests releasing bats instead of doves at her wedding.
  • In Shrek 2, birds are strategically released when Fiona and Shrek are announced to the kingdom. However, when everyone realizes that they're ogres, one of the birds gets so distracted they crash into a wall.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • John Woo is in love with this trope, as it's been a trademark of his since The Killer (1989), where they featured strongly during the siege at the church in the finale. By the time Mission: Impossible II was released, it appeared as though Woo had married this trope and fathered a dozen of its babies. This trope even appears in the anime movie Appleseed Ex Machina he is producing (see above).
  • When Jesus goes around Flipping the Table in the Temple in The Gospel According to St. Matthew, one of the things he flips over is a wicker barrel containing doves, which pops open and lets the doves loose.
  • Variation in The Matrix Reloaded: Just before the "Burly Brawl" sequence, the Oracle had been feeding a flock of metaphoric ravens while talking with Neo. When she and Seraph leave, the ravens fly off in fright as Agent Smith approaches...
  • This is done in Hot Fuzz, to the point where it's actually brought up in the commentary track as a John Woo reference
  • In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, they had to use doves instead of gulls in the "scaring the birds" scene, because they couldn't get the gulls to take off.
  • Edge of Darkness: A German regiment has been dispatched to investigate a report of the Norwegian flag flying over a town in occupied Norway. They find a town filled with corpses. One jittery soldier lets loose with a machine gun burst, causing a flock of pigeons to fly away.
  • At the climax of Blade Runner the decaying upper stories of the Bradbury Building are full of doves (and pigeon poop) as Deckard and Roy Batty play hide-and-seek, and Roy famously holds one in his hand as he delivers the magnificent Tannhäuser Gate monologue, releasing it as he murmurs, "Time to die..." This may honestly be one of the earliest appearances of the trope as a Significant Emotional Moment reaction, as opposed to a Loud Noise reaction.
  • The Notebook has a particularly Sickeningly Sweet instance of this.
  • A flock of disturbed seagulls take off when Harry Waters arrives In Bruges.
  • The movie Branded to Kill, director Seijun Suzuki didn't have the budget to buy birds, so he just superimposed their silhouettes on the scene he wanted them.
  • John Glen's run on the James Bond films (For Your Eyes Only straight through to Licence to Kill) had at least one per film.
  • Subverted to a degree in Big Fat Liar when the main character jumps off a roof, it is shot in slow motion with doves flying in the background. The subversion is that the birds were placed there on purpose to do just that.
  • In Highlander, Ramirez is chatting with Heather when he feels the Kurgan approaching. He looks up and sees the birds flying away. Apparently, animals can tell if an evil immortal is on the way.
  • Used subtly in Mulholland Dr. when Adam Kesher smashes the Castiglianis' limo with a golf club.
  • Mercilessly parodied in Scary Movie 2 with a game of wheelchair chicken...indoors.
  • Invoked in The Bourne Identity when Bourne is being tracked through tall grass by Clive Owen's Cold Sniper. Bourne lets off a shotgun, disturbing some very noisy birds, and runs for cover while the ensuing cacophony covers his footsteps.
  • In Penelope (2006), when Penelope's mother discovers she's run away, and runs out the front door of the house calling after her, startled pigeons fly up in the background. They're more conspicuous in the trailer than in the actual film, though.
  • When the Japanese discover the British commandos bathing in The Bridge on the River Kwai, the first shot is followed by a cut to the bats woken up by the shot flying around above the canopy.
  • In the French horror film Eyes Without a Face disturbed doves are used for the haunting ending. This actually inspired John Woo in The Killer (1989).
  • The climactic duel in Barry Lyndon takes place in an old barn with doves noticeably flying around, although perhaps fittingly given the general aesthetic of the film, they don't really interact with the combatants.
  • In horror film Eye of the Devil, a flock of doves flies away after Catherine drives into the courtyard of the spooky castle that is her husband's estate. Then some scary, dead-eyed locals shoot one of the doves out of the sky. It's a Town with a Dark Secret.
  • I Am Cuba: They're sent flying when the cops fire off a warning volley in an attempt to get the audience at Enrique's speech to disperse. A second volley actually shoots one of the doves out of the air, whereupon the film goes super-Anvilicious as Enrique leads a march away, holding the dead dove in front.
  • Aparajito: The pigeons scatter from atop the temple as Apu's father Harihar dies.
  • Triangle: A flock of disturbed seagulls take flight when Jess bursts out on to the top deck and finds a wounded Sally crawling away through piles of dead copies of herself.
  • Parodied in 21 Jump Street, where doves fly out of a limo that the characters are in, with Jenko exiting holding a box labeled "Doves".

  • In Haruhi Suzumiya, during the making of the home movie, Haruhi decides that a flock of doves flying by Mikuru would make a perfect shot; unfortunately, all she can find are shrine pigeons. Of course, after the shoot, they end up turning pure white...
  • In Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40,000 Gaunt's Ghosts novel Blood Pact, when fighting breaks out at the climax, flocks of (unspecified) birds take flight.
  • Reading—for the first time—Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, you're expecting the title to refer to one of the 9/11 plane crashes, because that would likely be relevant to the plot. Turns out to be 10-year-old narrator Oskar's description of the sudden departure of a flock of birds.
  • The Art of War gives this as one of the signs the enemy is on the move.
  • Princesses of the Pizza Parlor: At the end of Princesses on the Broken Sea:
    there was no noise, no birdsong
    A single, immense roar, a deep bass note that continued longer than she cared to count, rumbled across the valley
    A great cloud arose from the forest as entire nations of birds took wing.
    This, Selvi felt from the pit of her stomach, was going to be bad....
  • A short story in Oathblood, a novel in Heralds of Valdemar, involves a villain who wants to cage and control firebirds, and mages, to take their power for herself. She's thwarted and the cages are opened, but Kethry is left considering if she too has that kind of controlling ambition. At the end of the story she and Tarma embrace and watch the firebirds flying, and Kethry thinks An Aesop about allowing those she loves, Tarma included, to come and go freely.

    Live Action TV 
  • On Psych during a Mexican Standoff, Shawn Spencer quips, "If this were a John Woo movie, doves would be flying everywhere right now."
  • Comedian Daniel Tosh once joked that if he was rich he'd rig doves to fly out whenever he made an entrance so people would think "Hey that must be John Woo's kid"
  • The Colbert Report lampoons a group of people claiming that birds taking off during their rally was a sign from God, saying something along the lines of "What are the odds that birds would take off the moment a hundred people started clapping at once?".
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Inverted when the Black Cloaks and the Wildings know when the White Walkers are coming when the crows land around them.
    • When Ned Stark is beheaded.
  • In Disney's The Swamp Fox series, using a gunshot to scare the birds near Marion's hideout into flight was a frequent way to summon the brigade. Could be real-life based, but unverified.

  • My Chemical Romance's song You Don't Know What They Do To Guys Like Us In Prison has a line with this trope:
    I'm like a bullet through a flock of doves!
  • There's an obscure concert tee of the band Disturbed's Mascot walking through a murder of Disturbed Ravens.
  • The video of "I Will Be There" by Art of Dying does this at the end, but with crows.
  • The video for "Weird Al" Yankovic's "It's All About the Pentiums" features these flying out of his car at the beginning.
  • Sentenced's "No One There" closes out the album The Cold White Light ominously with the sound of a flock of eurasian cranes panickingly taking off, in a Call-Back to their sounds in the Album Intro Track "Konevitsan Kirkonkellot".

    Professional Wrestling 

    Video Games 
  • One of the campaign scenarios in Command & Conquer: Generals: Zero Hour begins with a large flock of ravens sitting in a tree that overlooks a cliff. A slight noise can be heard in the distance, the birds fly away, and a motorcycle drives over the cliff. Followed by another. Followed by dozens.
  • Ace Attorney:
    • Played for laughs in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney with Valant Gramarye. He's a magician, so his shock sprite involves not only disturbed doves but disturbed rabbits and disturbed bunches of flowers to boot.
    • The Great Ace Attorney: One of the animations for Lord Chief Justice Mael Stronghart features a group of birds in the background scenery flying off for effect. Somehow, this seems to happen only when he performs this pose, and happens every time.
  • Metal Gear:
  • In Shadow of the Colossus, doves gradually gather around Mono's altar; they will fly away if you get too close (or shoot arrows at them). Given that there are so few animals in the game, and that a new dove appears for each colossus killed, this is almost certainly symbolic.
  • In the Assassin's Creed II trailer, birds fly off when Ezio uses his wrist gun. Justified, because the shot was fairly loud.
    • In the first game, flocks of doves mark points where it is safe to take a Leap of Faith, so you'll probably disturb them yourself as you jump.
  • You'll occasionally disturb flocks of pigeons in Deus Ex. They're rarely important, aside from alerting the odd guard. In a possible shout out to John Woo, it appears that roughly half of the world pigeon population resides in Hong Kong.
  • Condemned: Criminal Origins has this somewhat: dead birds started showing up during and before the course of the game, related to the evil jaw-thing at the end of the game.
  • Canabalt has the protagonist run through flocks of birds perched on the rooftops, which fly off as he passes.
  • The Demo Video for the Dual Pistols Powerset in City of Heroes featured Doves as part of it's finishing move: "Hail of Bullets". The Doves were a joke added in by the animator, and were removed before the Powerset's final release. (Mostly because he didn't want to deal with customizing the Doves.)
    • To the sadness of many a Dual Pistols player, and the relief of others who think the set is entirely too silly and flashy as it is.
  • In Loopmancer, when you fight Hiroyuki. There's a flock of seagulls in the deck which flies off when you and Hiroyuki charge at each other in the pre-boss battle cutscene.
  • Team Fortress 2: A painting at the Valve offices featuring Medic posing with his Badass Longcoat blowing in the wind, holding a Medigun, and surrounded by Disturbed Doves was leaked online, foreshadowing the "Meet the Medic" video that would be shown soon after. It turns out that the Medic keeps doves as pets in the video, hence their disturbed flights. You can also get a taunt which allows you to perform this at any time you want. The item's description is this:
    Remind those ungrateful bastards how valuable your Medic skills are by striking a heroic pose accompanied by an angelic choir, beams of divine light, and a flock of doves.
  • In Arcana Heart, as a Shout-Out to John Woo movies, one of Petra's winning poses has her shoot one of her guns in the air, followed by a flock of doves flying past her.
  • In The Floor is Jelly, if there are birds in a tree, they'll fly off if the stretch of ground the tree is rooted on suddenly jiggles.
  • In Pokémon Black and White, stepping outside your house for the very first time will startle a flock of Pidove in your yard, and they'll fly off. If it's after sunset, you instead disturb a flock of Woobat.
  • In BlazBlue series, there is a stage which has a girl feeding pigeons which you can drive off through various means.
  • A gameplay mechanic in Evolve. Flocks of birds spawn around the map, which a monster will startle into flight if it moves too close. This can be prevented by sneaking when moving near birds or using smell to detect them early and avoid them altogether.


    Web Original 
  • Spoofed in the opening of Star Wars Downunder when fleeing fruit bats herald Darth Drongo's attack on the Brown Mullet pub.
  • Parodied by The Nostalgia Critic during his reviews of Face/Off and Matrix Reloaded.

    Western Animation 
  • The Venture Brothers does an extremely gratuitous Shout-Out to this in the first season's finale.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender
    • Parodied in "The Beach", when Zuko takes off his shirt. The director on the DVD commentary states its their "big John Woo tribute".
    • Played straight in the series finale when the wildlife is driven off by fire.
  • Teen Titans played this straight when a flock of disturbed doves appeared during Robin and Red X's team up. It also doubles as the series' version of a "big John Woo tribute".
  • Parodied in Drawn Together, in that almost every time something even slightly dramatic happens, Disturbed Doves will fly outward from the area randomly. In one scene, after the housemates look at a dramatic scene with Disturbed Doves in the background, said Disturbed Doves immediately attack the housemates.
  • In the beginning of the first Made-for-TV Movie of Danny Phantom, ghost ravens (or it is raven ghosts?) caw and fly off as Vlad Plasmius awakens Pariah Dark.
  • 12 Oz. Mouse does this during one of the shootout scenes. Actually, considering the show itself, that's actually quite normal.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • In "The Show Stoppers", Scootaloo's high-speed leap over a tree branch sends a flock of birds scattering, framing her on either side in slow-motion.
    • In "Frenemies", when Cozy Glow finds out that Rusty Bucket owns a copy of the friendship journal and applied one of its lessons to avoid her manipulation, her furious scream sends a flock of birds flying away from Mount Everhoof.
  • Parodied in the American Dad! episode "Roy Rogers McFreely." Roger takes over the homeowner's association and it eventually culminates into the equivalent of a mob war between him and Stan. Stan's group cut the breaks on a riding mower used by one of Roger's Mexican gardeners. Seeing he's headed for a small drop, he dramatically jumps off the mower into a bush, where doves fly off. The mower then comes to a stop.
  • The Simpsons: In "Who Shot Mr. Burns?", Homer is frustrated that, despite numerous encounters and his having worked for the man for years, Mr. Burns still has no idea who he is. Marge advises him to send a gift. He sends a box of chocolates, and receives a thank-you note addressed to the other members of the Simpson family, but not to him. Enraged, he tells the kids to step out of the room, takes a deep breath, and shouts an Atomic F-Bomb, censored by a church organ. The church organ causes a flock of doves to fly away.

    Real Life 
  • The release of large numbers of doves, symbolising peace, is a traditional part of the opening ceremony of the modern Olympic Games. Starting with the Barcelona 1992 games substitutes such as balloons, kites, fireworks and dancers have been used instead due to an unfortunate incident during the Seoul 1988 games where the doves landed on the cauldron before the Olympic flame was lit.
  • In outdoor eating places it isn't uncommon to get a large flock of pigeons or (if you're near the beach) seagulls hanging around. Running through them tends to produces this effect. (Although you may find that some fly into your face, ruining any dramatic effect you were hoping for.)
  • This infamous video shows a pastor at a funeral attempting to release a dove, only for it to die of shock when he throws it into the air.
  • In yet another example of things Gone Horribly Wrong, Pope Francis and two children released two doves from the Vatican, only to watch them get attacked by a seagull and a crow.
  • Generally, trying to Invoke this in real life with a "dove release" is heavily ill-advised: Wildlife rescuers and vets are frequently encountering lost and injured doves roaming the wilderness after being "sent off" from weddings and other celebrations.


Video Example(s):


Destroying a plane with birds

"I suddenly remembered my Charlemagne," he explains. "Let my armies be the rocks, and the trees, and the birds in the sky."

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