Updated at: 18-06-2023 - By: Jane Brody

In terms of raptors, vultures are the largest.

Therefore, it is very challenging for these birds to fly with only fluttering.

Because of this, they can soar to tremendous heights by riding updrafts of air with their large wings.

So, they do a circling maneuver to maintain a position close to the thermal.

Vultures can thoroughly search an area for dead animals by circling overhead. (Animal corpses that have spoiled)

The article will cover the following topics:

  • Vultures sometimes appear to be flying in circles, which begs the question: why?
  • Do vultures swoop down on dead creatures?
  • When does something give off the vultures’ signal that it’s about to die?
  • When vultures swoop in on you, what does it mean?
  • How come there are always vultures around?

This page is for you if you’re curious about vultures and the reasons they circle.

Find that intriguing?


Okay, so let’s begin.

Why Do Vultures Fly In Circles?

Why Do Vultures Circle

Why? Because vultures soar in thermals rather than flapping their wings.

Vultures, you see, are the heaviest birds in the animal kingdom.

Andean condors, the largest of these birds, weigh over 15 kg and have a wingspan of about 3 m; black vultures, the smallest, weigh around 1.3 kg and have a wingspan of about 1.7 m.

As a result of the tremendous amount of energy required, fluttering is not a viable option for vultures.

The ground is currently fairly bumpy.

This means that the soil warms up to different degrees depending on where you are.

Hot air rises due to the temperature shift, creating thermals.

However, Raptors have adapted to take use of thermals, enabling them to effortlessly fly at extremely high altitudes.

Griffon vultures, who weigh around 11 kgs and have wingspans of 2.8m, are capable of flying to altitudes more than 12,000 meters due to this very adaptation.

However, thermals can only be used in certain locations.

They happen only during specific times of day, usually between dawn and dusk.

It’s true that these thermals create separate air currents.

This is why vultures do things like fly in circles to stay within a thermal and use paragliding to get from one thermal to another.

However, vultures are not always a portent of doom.

Do Vultures Circle Dying Animals?

Why Do Vultures Circle-2

Most of the time, yes.

However, a close flyby is not always a death sentence.

Vultures are, by nature, timid and wary birds.

What this means is that they are not fans of surprises or taking chances.

For obvious reasons of safety, they will surround a dying animal for hours.

Normally, they observe the following:

  1. Can you think of any more desirable dead bodies in the area?
  2. Who, if any, is lurking around the dead animal?
  3. Has the life left the dead body? or has it ceased its movement?
  4. Are they sharp enough to pierce an inanimate object? else they’d have to wait for some other scavenger to break open the cadaver. Or perhaps the corpse would decompose on its own.

The question arises, “why would a vulture waste so much time before feasting?”

Vultures are frequently attacked and killed by the very animals they are supposed to eat.

Vultures, for instance, increase in number during times of hunger.

However, they are the most vulnerable to being devoured by starving birds.

An animal as large as a lion or leopard would rather wait for a vulture to swoop down and pick at a new carcass than devour one.

Despite their menacing appearance, vultures are actually gentle birds.

Vultures are capable of harming any predator they come into contact with, beak or no beak.

Their weak feet prevent them from grabbing and crushing their foes.

Avoiding a vulture is more like fending off a large pigeon than a ferocious bird.

Vultures know they are defenseless against larger birds of prey, though.

Because of this, they prefer to remain in large communities.

Even yet, they prefer to avoid confrontations where they might be eaten by fleeing the area.

Because of this, when under attack, vultures immediately vomit and take to the air.

The vomit is not some sort of bioweapon, either.

Instead, they throw up to reduce their body mass and take off more readily.

However, the noxious byproduct does serve to temporarily divert the attention of their would-be meal.

Rather than asking that, a more intriguing inquiry would be:

How Do Vultures Know When Something Is Dying?

Why Do Vultures Circle-3

For the simple reason that they see exceptionally well and can detect the stench of decaying flesh from great distances.

Vultures use their sense of smell and sight to find dead animals.

1. Smelling Death

Vultures from the New World have highly developed senses of smell and smell.

They have an acute sense of smell and can detect a dead rodent from miles away, even if it is buried in the underbrush.

Vultures have an acute sense of smell, and one particular gas given off by decaying organic matter is Ethyl Mercaptan, a sulfur-containing hydrocarbon.

One and the same gas causes the odor of rotten eggs, cabbage, and flatulence.

As early as 1938, when Union Oil Company put mercaptan into their pipelines, a correlation between vultures and decomposition gases was noted.

Vultures, however, were swarming around the leaking pipes.

Turkey vultures were the subject of a 1986 study in Panama.

Even though some of the deceased chickens were hidden, the vultures recovered 71 of 74 of them within 3 days.

Surprisingly, vultures were quicker to locate ancient carcasses than new ones.

However, they still preferred eating new corpses over old ones.

However, they were unable to locate three bodies since they were too recently dead to give off any rotting odors.

The presence of a lot of mercaptan means the animal has decomposed after death.

The King vulture, along with the greater and lesser yellow-headed vultures, are three more species of vulture that rely on their sense of smell to locate a dead animal.

2. Visually Tracking The Dead

Even a dead worm 100 meters away is no match for the keen eyesight of these birds.

Colors appear more vibrant to them.

It has been shown that vultures can tell when an animal is sick simply by observing its body temperature, which indicates any significant fluctuations.

They also stay close to a dying animal to make sure it is not in any distress and is not moving around.

There are many who will search for insects and other scavengers as a sure evidence of decomposition.

To locate a sick or dead animal, some vultures follow the leads of other vultures.

When compared to other birds, black vultures’ sense of smell is weak but their eyesight is exceptional.

Turkey vultures, who can detect the odor of decaying flesh, are commonly followed by these birds.


What Does It Mean When Vultures Circle You?

Vultures can be drawn to a location for a variety of reasons, including food sources, migration routes, and the presence of a dead body.

Curiosity is sometimes all that is meant.

1. Presence Of a Carcass

Vultures, like every other animal, are motivated by the pursuit of food.

Vultures may be visiting your neighborhood for the first time.

It’s likely that vultures have detected the stench of rotting meat near your home.

A rotting sheep, a mouse, or even some rotten walnuts are all possibilities.

2. Circling In Thermals

If vultures are a common sight at your location, you may be on the vultures’ typical route for finding thermals.

Most likely, vultures are following you around because they can ride the thermals above you.

3. Migration

In light of the fact that a flock of raptors has been circling the area.

It reminds me of water slowly heating in a kettle.

A group of vultures is called “a kettle of vultures” because of their swarming behavior.

Vultures frequently form large groups, called “kettles,” consisting of four to twelve individuals.

In contrast, if thousands of vultures are circling your location, it’s possible that they’re only passing through on their way to a warmer climate.

This occurs most frequently in the fall and spring.

4. Curiosity

Although vultures are usually seen as a sign of doom.

But they’re naturally inquisitive creatures.

They have been known to circle human settlements for no other reason than to satisfy their natural curiosity.

In that case, perhaps you have piqued the interest of the vulture that is circling you.

5. Loss Of Habitat

As a species, vultures favor expansive regions in which to soar.

Tragically, natural environments have been severely damaged due to human activity and climate change.

As a result, we are able to witness creatures in environments they have never experienced before.

Possibly vultures are hovering around your property because they have nowhere else to go.

News6 covered a similar instance in which the relocation of black vultures to Central Florida as a result of construction in Orange County.

The vultures then did extensive damage to people’s homes and businesses.

These vultures ripped up everything from pool covers and car wipes to rubber liners and roof tiles.

They were able to damage the car’s paint and the vinyl upholstery.

The inhabitants tried to protect themselves by spraying their homes with a vulture repellent, but it was ultimately ineffective.

Why Do Black Vultures Hang Around?

Tight ties are commonplace in a black vulture’s brood.

Typically, they congregate in groups of eight to thirty of these birds.

But if you’re curious about why they keep gathering there, here are a few theories.

In that case, it could be for one of the following causes:

  1. The sense of smell is not developed in black vultures. Because of this, turkey vultures frequently congregate in the area in the hope of stumbling upon a dead animal. The only thing black vultures do is kill time until they come upon any turkey vultures that might be about.
  2. As the climate shifts, so do the air currents. So,

Perhaps thermals have recently emerged in previously uninhabited regions.

This means that black vultures may now congregate in areas they were previously unable to access.

  1. Black vultures consume not just carrion, but also reptile eggs and newborn babies. They even resort to eating dead coconuts and trash to survive. So,

At addition to carrion, black vultures are frequently seen in garbage dumps and garden areas.

  1. The black vulture is a bird of prey that is sometimes unable to consume a dead animal. When this happens, they either wait for another scavenger to break into the corpse, or they allow the skin to deteriorate naturally.
  2. After the destruction of their habitats, black vultures have been spotted in human settlements.

But maybe you’ve only started noticing black vultures now.

Most of them can be found in the region stretching from the southeastern United States to Texas in the west.

To the north, in states like New Jersey and Pennsylvania, there is also a sizable population of black vultures.

The presence of black vultures in Southern Arizona has also been observed recently.

For these and other reasons, our understanding of black vultures remains inadequate.

As a result, we are often at a loss to account for their actions.

Fishermen in Indiana Farmlands, for example, claimed that vultures had specifically targeted their tires and windshield wipers in a complaint published in ABC Action News Report.

No one has yet figured out what caused the unexpected uptick in bird attacks on human automobiles.

Wow, those birds are fascinating!

Wrapping Up 

The vultures use the thermals, or rising air currents, to soar.

Because of the need to remain within the confines of a thermal, they ascend and descend in ever-widening circles.

However, before eating the corpse, they make sure the food is truly dead by circling them.

Nonetheless, they can detect dying creatures by the odor of decomposition.

If that fails, they rely on sight to locate the dead animals.

When a vulture is swooping down on you, it’s probably because it smells a carcass nearby.

There’s also the possibility that the vultures are only passing through on their annual migration.

They pose no threat and your worries are unfounded.

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