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Why Do Birds Fly in Circles? Why Do They Do It Above Your House?

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flock of birds flying in circles over the lake

Have you ever looked up and noticed dozens, if not hundreds or thousands, of birds circling an area? If so, you’re not alone. It’s something that birds do quite often, and without context, it can be perplexing.

They’re not going anywhere, so why are they wasting time and energy just flying around in circles? There are a few possible explanations, but the truth is that they’re not wasting as much energy as you might think. From searching for predators to making use of thermal currents, there are plenty of reasons that birds might be circling an area.

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Why Do Birds Fly in Circles?

If you look up and see birds circling, there are a few possible explanations. We highlighted four of the most likely reasons here, and then it’s up to you to try to decipher why the birds you’re watching might be circling!

Save Energy

Flight is a complicated thing, and unless you’re a pilot or into paragliding, it’s likely something that you’ve never given much thought to. But one reason that birds might be flying in circles is simply to take advantage of a process called thermals.

Thermals refer to regions where hot air on the ground rises, and birds use these regions to reduce the amount of energy that they need to expend to stay in the air. If you’re watching birds and they seem to glide in circles more than straightforwardly fly, there’s a good chance that they’re using thermals to help them out.

It’s a nifty trick that birds have discovered!

Attract More Birds to the Flock

When birds fly in a flock, they can use aerodynamics to draft off each other and save energy when they’re flying over long distances. But birds don’t just magically know when everybody is meeting up!

Therefore, birds need to attract attention from other birds to have them join them. They often do this by flying in circles, and some birds will even honk or make other noises to attract other members to their flock.

Once they have enough members, they’ll start their long journey to wherever they’re going. The energy that they expended by flying in circles is less than the energy that they’ll save by flying together!

Finding Food

Birds get hungry too! Sometimes when a bird is flying in circles, they’ve spotted something below that interests them. Before landing and diving right in, many birds take a more cautious approach by flying in circles to see what they’re dealing with.

If what they see warrants enough interest after they check it out, they’ll swoop down and grab a bite to eat.

Looking for Predators

If a bird is considering landing somewhere, they want to ensure that it’s safe before touching down. When they’re up high, they have a better vantage point of what’s around, and many birds use this as an opportunity to scope out the area before landing.

It could be that they’re looking around before they touchdown for the night, or they could simply be checking things out before they go down to grab food. Either way, they want to be 100% sure that there are no predators in the area before they land.

It depends on the area and the specific bird on how long they’ll look, but there’s a chance that they’ll spot you and decide to move to a different location.

Flock of Greater White-Fronted Geese Flying in circle

Image Credit: rck_953, Shutterstock

What Does It Mean If Birds Keep Circling Your House?

If it seems like a ton of birds are constantly circling your home, it could be for any of the aforementioned reasons. It’s not a bad omen, but if you’re tired of them circling, there might be a few things that you need to do to get them to stop.

Chances are that your home is along a migratory route for the birds, and they think that your area is a safe place for them to gather or bed down for the evening. If you have bird feeders out or other food sources, this is a good way to attract birds, and it might be why they’re circling around.

It could also be that you live in an area with few predators and plenty of places to perch. Whether it’s telephone lines or trees, anywhere that they can perch up high is an excellent spot for a bird to hang out.

Finally, while trees and telephone lines might be great places to perch, if you live near an open field, it’s an excellent place for them to make use of thermal currents while they’re attracting members for their journey. This is especially common if you live in a neighborhood near a farm or at the edge of a forest.

They have their places to perch, but when they’re getting ready to leave, they’ll head to the edge to conserve as much energy as possible while getting everyone ready to go!

Final Thoughts

Just because you don’t understand what’s going on doesn’t mean it’s not happening for a reason, and it certainly doesn’t mean it’s a bad omen or anything!

Hopefully, the next time that you see birds circling, you can look up in awe, and you can better understand why they’re doing it in the first place!


Featured Image Credit: eka_zimina, Shutterstock

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.

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