Why Birds Fly in Circles? (6 Reasons)

Seeing a group of birds flying in circles is undoubtedly a delightful experience, as they seem to emanate calmness and peace! But what precisely stands behind this behavior? Are they doing this out of necessity or pleasure?

Some birds fly in circles to preserve energy or to invite others to join their migration route. Birds of prey sometimes fly in circles while looking for carrion. Other birds fly in circles before a storm as a consequence of feeling the changes in barometric pressure.

And let’s not forget about the famous starling murmuration, which typically occurs as a safety measure!

Why Birds Fly in Circles
Griffon vultures flying in a circle

Why Do Birds Fly in Circles?

Birds fly in circles for various reasons, which depend on their species, typical behavior, and external conditions. Keep reading to learn some of the most common reasons for their circle-flying behavior!

1. Change in Barometric Pressure

Have you ever seen flocks of birds flying in circles, followed by the onset of a storm? That’s quite predictive of them, isn’t it? There is, in fact, a scientific explanation for this.

Right before a storm, the barometric pressure drops. Birds are highly sensitive to these changes and are well aware that a storm is coming. Consequently, their survival instincts become enhanced.

They engage in this flying-in-circles behavior as a “coping mechanism” to prepare for the upcoming natural event. In fact, this flying technique is often regarded as a calm behavior – the calm before the storm, literally!

As you probably already know, birds (especially small species) do not typically forage if it’s raining because there’s a high risk of getting injured. That’s why they have to find shelter quickly before the storm starts and gather enough food to last them until it’s safe to leave the shelter.

So this flying behavior may also serve as environment exploration to find food and shelter.

2. Taking Advantage of Thermals

Scientists suggest that flying in circles allows birds to preserve energy. Since migratory routes are tiring, birds often take advantage of temporarily flying in circles to rest. Resting while flying sounds a bit odd, right? So how’s this possible?

Well, birds are sometimes carried through the skies by something called thermals, which are warm, rising air currents. These currents rise from our planet’s surface in bubbles.

When birds get into these bubbles, they do not need to flap their wings to fly. The thermals lift them into the air, and the birds soar around the so-called bubble. Since they do not need to flap their wings, they can easily rest and conserve energy for the upcoming flight.

Other birds take advantage of thermals to reach high altitudes more easily.

3. Looking for Prey

Contrary to popular belief, birds of prey, like hawks and eagles, rarely fly in circles above carrion. On the other hand, they do fly in circles, trying to find something to feast on.

They rely on the same warm, thermal air that allows migrating birds to rest. These birds are just riding the warm air bubble until they spot something edible.

Black vultures have been observed taking advantage of turkey vultures’ powerful sense of smell. While the latter are looking for carrion, the former are flying in circles above them, having the time of their lives while someone else looks for food!

Once they notice that a turkey vulture finds prey, they rush to chase it away and enjoy a feast of their own. They do so because their sense of smell is not as well-developed as that of a turkey vulture, and spotting live prey or carrion only by sight is much more difficult.

Some birds of prey may fly in circles above live prey or carrion if others are on the ground and there’s literally no space for them to share the meal. Nevertheless, they’ll keep their eyes on the meal in case there’s any possibility for them to land and take a bite.

4. Protection Against Predators

Some birds fly in circles while looking for prey; others fly in circles to avoid becoming prey! As such, if birds feel they’re in danger, they may start flying in circles to confuse their predators. The merrier, the better! This way, the predator cannot focus on one particular bird and may eventually give up hunting the group.

5. Migration Gathering

Some birds are known to fly in circles in large groups right before migration. Supposedly, this flying behavior invites other birds to join them for the upcoming journey.

This is an essential step in preparing for migration. The larger the flock, the better it is protected against predators.

Besides this, birds can fly more efficiently if they travel in large groups. This is common in species that migrate in V-flocks. The first bird breaks up the air wall, giving the bird behind it a lift. This way, they help each other fly more easily.

6. Murmuration

Murmuration is not the typical flying-in-circles behavior, meaning it is not driven by warm air currents and may result in different shapes, not only circles. However, starlings sometimes do form circles during murmuration. This is undoubtedly a breathtaking sight!

Starlings are most often observed engaging in this behavior at sunset and do so primarily for safety reasons.

Birds Flying in Circles Spiritual Meaning

Seeing a group of birds flying peacefully in circles can make for a thrilling bird-watching experience! It often makes one wonder whether there’s a meaning behind this.

Birds are associated with deep spiritual meanings and are regarded as symbols of freedom, hope, joy, peace, and new beginnings. Their actions are often seen as cryptic messages from the spiritual world, prompting us to dig deep into our thoughts and actions.

It is thought that a single bird flying in circles is a sign that good luck is on its way to your life. If you’re watching a group of birds flying in circles, you may be witnessing a symbol of unification, harmony, balancing energy, and possibly a new beginning!

Some people believe that birds flying in circles personify human beings communicating and connecting.

Crows flying in circles, on the other hand, can be a sign of bad luck, although some regard this as a symbol of strength during difficult times.

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