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Foreboding Fleeing Flock

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"'Birds flying away to signal something ominous' cliché."

Most animals have much better senses than humans, and as such they are better at detecting an approaching danger and responding appropriately. One good sign of impending trouble is a swarm of animals fleeing away from it, especially if they're predators fleeing past or even with their prey. Often people find themselves in front of said fleeing swarm without realizing the reason they're fleeing. Alternatively, they take it as a sign they're getting close to the source of the trouble if they're intentionally investigating it.

Always a Bigger Fish is a possible cause for this. See also Evil-Detecting Dog, Portent of Doom, Bat Scare, Canary in a Coal Mine, Disturbed Doves, A Storm Is Coming, Scared of What's Behind You, Invading Refugees, and Follow the Chaos. Compare Don't Ask, Just Run. If the animals or birds have already left the area before the protagonists arrive, see It's Quiet… Too Quiet. If particularly dangerous and aggressive animals flee and ignore everything else, see Why Isn't It Attacking?.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Dragon Ball Z:
    • At the beginning of the series, prior to the battle with Vegeta and Nappa, several hordes of animals — including dinosaurs — are shown fleeing the area where the battle will take place.
    • While flying to join the fight against the ancient resurrected evil Majin Buu, Goten and Trunks run into a flock of frightened birds coming from the direction of the battle.
  • In a flashback in the Wano Arc of One Piece, Whitebeard and his crew approaching an island notice schools of fish, sharks, and even sea serpents fearfully swimming away, and once they land, witness the ferocious animals of the island running terrified from the interior. They guess there must be some fearsome monster present, and they're half right, because it's the Roger Pirates.
  • In Pokémon 2000, the wild Pokemon start reacting to the impeding disaster that will summon Lugia. Professor Oak mentions that Pokemon are much more in tune with nature than humans.
    • This might be an inversion as the Pokemon were rushing TOWARD the potential scene of disaster and not away from it, in the apparent attempt to prevent/fix the disaster harming their world even though they might lack the power to do anything about it. Curiously though, when the actual major events happen, we don't see any Pokemon other than the major characters become involved. It still plays straight how they were able to apparently predict not only that something was going wrong (although that was becoming more apparent with abberant weather conditions) but also head in the proper direction to do so.
  • In Toriko, when the fight between Horse King Heracles and Toriko's Blue Oni gets serious, all of the animals on the entire continent flee in panic.
  • In 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, and ran to save the girls.

    Fan Works 
  • Abraxas (Hrodvitnon): A school of normal-sized fish swim rapidly past Godzilla and Monster X in the ocean without caring about the risk of either predator catching them in Chapter 13; a sure sign of a greater danger (the Many) being nearby.
  • Boldores And Boomsticks: A scared flock of Pidgey lets Gary Oak, Riley, and Tracey Follow the Chaos to find Team RWBY.
  • In A different weasel makes a difference, every single animal North of the Wall (from birds and rabbits to direwolves, bears, and mammoths) flees South shortly before the Others' attack on the Wall. One shadowcat actually climbs the wall.
    • Done again later in the story after the Others have breached the Wall, and the animals need to flee further and further South.

    Film — Animation 
  • Flocks of crows sound the alarm in Bambi whenever Man approaches.
  • Beauty and the Beast: Played for laughs when the birds eating from Beast's hands fly away from him right before Belle hits him with a snowball.
  • In Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, a flock of ratbirds and Flint's pet monkey Steve are seen fleeing just before the big food storm.
  • Invoked in The Lion King (1994) when Scar has the hyenas cause a wildebeest stampede as a trap for both Simba and Mufasa. Also, a few seconds before the stampede appears, a flock of birds can be seen taking off.
  • Dinosaur
    • In the opening prologue, a young Parasaurolophus chases a flying lizard into a thicket when he realizes he's not alone in there. He bolts out, drawing the attention of all the other dinosaurs right before a hungry Carnotaurus comes charging out.
    • As Aladar and the lemurs watch a mesmerizing meteor shower in the sunset, Pilo notices a flock of birds frantically flying away from their island. She and her father Yar both have an ominous gut feeling, and sure enough, a much, much bigger meteor falls from the sky a few moments later.
  • In Ferngully The Last Rainforest, Crysta flies over the canopy for the first time and sees a plume of smoke over the horizon. She is then overcome by a flock of birds fleeing the source of the smoke — a human logging team.
  • Finding Nemo: Dory and Marlin are arguing that it's just as good the whale they were trying to talk to swam away, since he might have been hungry. Dory counters that whales only eat krill. Cue a cloud of krill swimming past them with a whale's open maw right behind them.
  • In Home (2015), Oh and Tip discover that the Boov are flying alongside them, but are not attacking them. Turns out they were fleeing a Gorg drone.
  • While on a field trip in Once Upon a Forest, Cornelius and his young students regard a large flight of birds of assorted species all flying away from Dapplewood, screeching in alarm. This signals to the party that some disaster has befallen Dapplewood, and the young ones need to return home at once to assess the damage.
  • In Pinocchio, Pinoch and Jiminy look for Monstro the whale under water, and every time they ask the sea creatures, they swim away in terror. Later, they run into a fleeing school of tuna, with a hungry Monstro close behind.
  • In The Red Turtle, the characters notice that something is wrong when the birds in the sky start to flock and fly off. Soon after the tsunami wave hits the shore of the island.
  • In Scooby-Doo! and the Monster of Mexico, a pack of wolves runs towards the gang — then past them, away from the chupacabra.
  • When farmer Fitzgibbons starts up his tractor in Don Bluth's The Secret of NIMH, Auntie Shrew sounds the alarm: "Run for your lives! It's Moving Day!" All the critters in the east field bug out, as the farmer's plow tends to obliterate anything in its path.
  • In Turning Red, the temple cats flee when Mei's aunties approach.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Aquaman (2018). While driving down a coastal road with his father, Arthur Curry sees a flock of seabirds flying overhead, then looks out to sea to find a Giant Wall of Watery Doom bearing down on them.
  • The protagonists from Cloverfield encounter a swarm of fleeing rats in the train tunnels before they encounter the Proportionately Ponderous Parasites.
  • Dark Was the Night: A sign of the monster's coming is how every animal in the area from the deer herds to the flocks of birds to the priests dog has vanished (whether they sensed the creature and ran or have been killed is unclear).
    Earl: Animal senses a threat, it tends not to hang around.
  • The Day After Tomorrow. When Sam, Brian, and Laura arrive in New York, they're puzzled to find countless flocks of squawking birds flying south. Dissolve to another scene at the zoo where all of the animals are raising ruckus, much to the zookeepers' confusion.
  • At the beginning of Dennis the Menace, after Mr. Wilson grabs his morning paper, he can hear the sounds of a bicycle bell dinging and empty cans tumbling behind, which is followed by a squirrel scurrying up a tree, flocks of birds shooting out of shrubs, and cats crashing into each other as they flee... all of which can mean one thing: Dennis is heading this way.
  • In the film adaptation of Dreamcatcher, Our Intrepid Heroes see a mass migration of all sorts of wildlife from their hunting cabin in the middle of the forest. One guy asks where they're all going, and one of his friends asks, "Better question... what are they all running from?"
  • Earthquake: A seismologist is setting some sensors inside a fault located in a farmer's field. The farm animals all go running just before a tremor causes the fissure to cave in on the hapless scientist.
  • Godzilla (2014): In the Golden Gate Bridge scene, a huge flock of sea gulls fly past the bridge, signalling that Godzilla is approaching.
  • The Impossible: One of the last signs right before the tsunami hitting the resort is a flock of birds seen overhead fleeing from the direction of the coast, and a lizard in a bush darting away (the movie is based on the 2004 Indonesian tsunami, and such behaviour was widely reported in real life).
  • Jurassic Park:
    • In Jurassic Park (1993), Dr. Grant pauses to appreciate how a group of gallimimus move "just like a flock of birds evading a predator". He doesn't know how right he is. Also a rare case where the flock themselves are a threat, as our heroes need to get out of their way to avoid being trampled.
      Tim: They're, uh... they're 'flocking' this way.
    • Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom: Dinosaurs run out of the forest after Mount Sibo, Isla Nublar's long-dormant volcano, erupts.
  • In one scene of the extended cut of King Kong (2005), the main characters are attacked by a swarm of giant aquatic centipedes as they're rafting down the river. The centipedes all abruptly retreat however, leaving the crew bewildered in uncomfortable silence for a moment, before the boats are rammed by a gigantic predatory fish.
  • In the film of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the hobbits are hiding from the Nazgul behind a log, and notice all manner of bugs scurrying away from it.
  • In Melancholia, as the planet Melancholia is on death course towards Earth, insects, worms and other insects start to surface the ground, signing the disturbances that happen in nature due to the gravitational pull of the approaching planet.
  • In The NeverEnding Story III: Escape from Fantasia, the Nasties' introduction is heralded by practically the entire student body running past Bastian.
  • Star Wars:
    • Star Wars: The Phantom Menace: The Trade Federation's invasion panics the animals of Naboo, who all race to get away, heedless of the Jedi trying to keep from getting trampled, or a certain noteworthy Gungan who just stands there like an idiot.
    • Revenge of the Sith: A rare non-animal example. There is a shot of the Separatist Council in the Mustafar control room, and suddenly a pack of mouse droids wheel very quickly into the room with Darth Vader right behind them. He of course is there to slaughter everyone present. A mouse droid was previously (later?) shown to be scared of Chewbacca, so presumably these ones were terrified of Anakin.
    • A variation occurs in Rogue One when an Imperial Star Destroyer and many smaller Empire ships over the city of Jedha suddenly leave... but only because the Death Star is coming in to obliterate the city.
    • The Last Jedi: A large pack of vulptex flee into the Resistance base, heralding the imminent First Order attack. Later inverted, the vulptex vanishing during the Resistance's Darkest Hour isn't ominous, but a sign of hope. After all, they didn't leave through the besieged front door, so there's obviously another way out.
  • In Supervolcano, the protagonists finally attain confirmation that an eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano is imminent. One of the scientists tries to play it down, in the hope that it won't be a major eruption. They're shaken by a massive rumbling, and discover a massive herd of bison evacuating the park. Only then does the cast realize how big the impending eruption will be. Later, as the magma finally begins shooting to the surface to start the eruption, a flock of birds quickly vacate the immediate area just before the first plume of the eruption goes off.
  • In Titanic (1997), as the ship begins sinking, the rats that infest the lower holds begin swarming and fleeing upward. Some lost and confused third-class passengers decide to follow them. "If this is the direction the rats are going, that's good enough for me!"
  • Inverted in War of the Worlds (2005). As everyone is trying to get on the ferries to escape the invaders, a flock of birds is seen flying away from the open water toward the land. But it turns out they're flying toward the Tripods, which appear from over a hill. It's only much later that we find out why: the Tripods have fleshy biological components inside their metal chassis, and the birds apparently want some of that juicy meat.
  • Every bird on the mountains in The Wave flee late at night, giving Kristian the indicator that the mountain is coming loose and a Giant Wall of Watery Doom is heading their way.

  • Sun Tzu, in The Art of War counsels being alert for this as it may indicate enemy movement.
  • In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry and Ron find a swarm of spiders leaving Hogwarts by an open window and heading for the forest. They later find out that the castle is home to a monster that spiders consider their mortal enemy: the basilisk.
  • Hollow Kingdom (2019): One chapter shows birds, insects, and ground mammals all fleeing away from a nuclear power plant after sensing it will soon go into meltdown.
  • Knight's & Magic features this, with Ernesti's moment to shine coming when a huge herd of Demons flees through his school's patrol trip fleeing a massive Division-classnote  Behemoth.
  • In the book Methuselahs Gift, the story begins with the animals of the forest — including the family of racoons it centers around — running in unison from the fire.
  • In one book of the New Jedi Order, Anakin Solo is fleeing a group of Yuuzhan Vong through the jungles of Yavin IV. His Force senses can't detect the Vong directly, but they can pick out where animals are fleeing or raising hell because of the strange creatures in their midst.
  • In the first chapter of Nomads of Gor, Tarl sees people and animals fleeing in anticipation of the coming of the Wagon Peoples [sic], four fierce nomadic tribes who come together once every few years to discuss the possibility of making war on the city dwellers. Even a larl (a tigerlike animal the size of a small elephant) is seen trotting away.
  • The Zombie Survival Guide mentions that all animal life on earth instinctively fears and runs away from zombies, so a conspicuous absence of animals or animal noise might be your first clue that the undead are nearby.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Stranger Things: Inverted in that the creatures are running towards something. When a large number of demodogs run past the heroes without attacking, this is because their master the Mind Flayer is sending them after El.
  • The Walking Dead (2010): In the Season 10 episode “Morning Star”, the survivors sense Alpha and the Whisperer horde are on their way and prepare for battle. Towards dusk, a massive swarm of rats begins fleeing from the woods outside Hilltop’s walls, alerting the survivors that the massive horde of walkers is approaching.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: 1st Edition Deities & Demigods Cyclopedia, Cthulhu Mythos chapter. All natural creatures are sensitive to the presence of Cthulhu Mythos monsters. If they detect any such creatures they will give a warning call and flee at maximum speed. Clever PCs can use this to their advantage.
  • In Warhammer 40,000, some of the fluff implies that the Tyranids aren't invading the galaxy as much as being a much more aggressive example of this, possibly fleeing from something back wherever they came from. It's also noted that if Tyranid horde heading your way suddenly turns around and gets the hell out of your system, it's not a sign to cheer. It's a sign to pack your stuff and get out of there as well, as the only enemy Tyranids run from are the Necrons, and a hive fleet suddenly fleeing is a good sign that your planet is home to a Tomb World. A Tomb World which may have just awakened in response to Tyranid fleet entering your system.

  • BIONICLE: When the Morbuzakh occupied the Great Furnace, it forced out the Furnace Salamanders. The event did not seem significant to Matoran though.

    Video Games 
  • Chaos Heat have the encounter with a Brain Monster boss, one of the freakier-looking and dangerous enemies, as you step into a lab where the ground is crawling with the smallest, low-level mutant critters, and with a massive pool on the other side. Suddenly, the critters all flees from the area, just as the pool's waters starts bubbling, before the boss reveals itself.
  • At the start of Death Stranding, birds and other animals are fleeing an oncoming storm of "Timefall", a strange rain that induces Rapid Aging in anything it touches. The protagonist is riding his motorbike in the same direction they're fleeing, and on seeing animals jump a precipice knows to drive to that area to do the same.
  • The fifth level of the original Metal Slug is set in a quiet Italian village. At one point, a pack of stray dogs runs on the street, signaling the arrival of that level's boss. This idea is never used again in the series.
  • In F.E.A.R. and its sequel, rats can sometimes be seen running en mass down some streets when you're headed towards something unpleasant.
  • The Forest stage in Guardian Heroes ends like this, with a large pack of wolves running away right before the Boss jumps in.
  • The Monster Hunter series likes to use this from time to time, with an increase of dangerous monsters caused by them fleeing from or being pushed out of their territory by a rampaging Elder Dragon or otherwise aberrant monster.
  • In S.T.A.L.K.E.R., this is seen in the introductory cutscene in Clear Sky as an early sign of the incoming blowout. Another example featuring a flock of rats also appears in one of the dream cutscenes in Shadow of Chernobyl.
  • The trailer for Subnautica shows schools of fish seemingly fleeing the puzzled player character... as a colossal, monstrous-looking creature approaches from behind. The creature is the Sea Emperor Leviathan, Friend to All Living Things. Never Trust a Trailer!
  • At two points on the first level of Sunset Riders, a flock of chickens will suddenly race onto the screen, clucking in alarm. They're followed seconds later by a herd of stampeding bulls.
  • World of Warcraft: In Duskwood, after helping Abercrombie with his project, he asks you to bring a note to the mayor of Darkshire, after which someone runs in with news that wolves are running out of the woods, as though fleeing something, the abomination you unwittingly helped create.

    Web Comics 
  • Chapter 47 of Drowtales features a fleeing flock of demons. Normally, the release of so many nether beings at once would be an unmitigated disaster, but these demons don't even try to feed on Chel'el'sussoloth's drow. It's deeply unsettling, and with good reason — because it turns out they're fleeing from a demon god.
  • Unsounded: Right as the self destruct spell is activated, but before it goes off and blows Inaktown's walls up a bunch of beetles flee the cavern.

    Web Original 
  • In the parody Star Wars Downunder, fleeing fruit bats herald the attack by Darth Drongo and his Sith Troopers on the Brown Mullet pub.

    Western Animation 
  • Gravity Falls:
    • The Manotaurs are introduced when a bunch of forest animals — and Manly Dan the lumberjack — are seen running from Chutzpar, one of their members.
    • When Weirdmageddon starts, the flock now includes Chutzpar himself. And some gnomes.
      Gnome 1: Move it, stretch!
      Gnome 2: Hey, we're scampering here!
  • In The Legend of Korra, this was done with spirits instead of animals. A bunch of spirits were fleeing from the collateral damage of a fight between Raava and Vaatu. Later, the spirits are once again fleeing, though this time they're evacuating from Republic City because of Kuvira's impending assault on the city.
  • Looney Tunes:
    • Bugs Bunny short "Super-Rabbit": after acquiring super powers similar to Superman's, Bugs flies to Texas to check out a man who hates rabbits and plans to kill all of them. When he arrives in Texas he finds a multitude of rabbits all running in the same direction. One of them tells Bugs "Run for your life! It's Cottontail Smith and he's gone plumb loco!" A few seconds later Smith appears holding a rifle.
    • Episodes involving the Tasmanian Devil usually begin with all sorts of animals fleeing.
  • The Powerpuff Girls (1998): In "Three Girls and a Monster," the girls fly into town to fight a particularly large monster. On their way they fly into a huge swarm of birds escaping the monster's destruction.
  • The Simpsons:
  • At the beginning of the Tiny Toon Adventures episode, "Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow", Babs (as Tinkerbunny) is introducing the show when she gets run over by a swarm of animals, who are running from Elmyra Duff. A minute or so later, the animals run past Buster's burrow. Babs is now part of the swarm and warns Buster that Elmyra is coming.
  • Total Drama All-Stars: When Chef goes to pick up "Mike" from Boney Island, he gets trampled by the hostile native wildlife as they flee from Mal. Mal then stomps on Chef's fingers and greets him sinisterly.
  • Watership Down (2018). As the rabbits stare across the fields around Watership Down, they see a flock of birds take flight signifying the approach of General Woundwort's Owsla.
  • Young Samson and Goliath episode "Cold Wind From Venus". As Samson and Goliath ride their motorbike they notice flocks of birds and herds of deer fleeing in the other direction. This is due to two robots from Venus imposing "environmental control" over the area — i.e. reducing the air temperature to below zero.

    Real Life 
  • It's never been properly scientifically tested but anecdotal evidence claims that animals have a sixth sense about impending storms and natural disasters and will flee or behave strangely before they hit. A more pragmatic explanation may simply be that they have evolved keener senses to air pressure, scent or vibrations than humans have had to.
  • Animals start running the same direction if there's a forest fire.
  • A particularly famous example is the 2004 Asian Tsunami which had significantly fewer animal casualties than would be expected and a lot of stories about strange behavior beforehand.
  • Some people have a sense for storms or respond physiologically to weather changes. Particularly aching joints or bones. But most humans can't up and flee even if they wanted to.
  • During an American Civil War era battle, deer were startled by Nathan Bedford Forrest's cavalry. The deer ran through a Union Army camp minutes before the Confederates arrived. The startled troops then were nearly wiped out.
  • One of the signs of an army ant assault is hundreds of insects fleeing ahead of the swarm. Some birds will take advantage of this and swoop in to grab them out of the path of the ants.
  • This is the origin of the phrase "rats fleeing a sinking ship".


Video Example(s):


Boney Island stampede

Chef gets flattened by a stampede from Boney Island's wildlife, who are fleeing from Mal.

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