- Recursive movement—returns to previously visited areas—is a widespread phenomenon exhibited by a large range of species from bees and birds to primates and large felines, at different spatial scales. Nevertheless, the wide scope and generality of this phenomenon remain underestimated by the scientific community. This limited appreciation for the pervasiveness of recursive movement can be attributed to its study by parallel lines of research, with different methodologies and nomenclature, and almost no cross referencing among them. Among these lines of studies are traplining behavior in foraging ecology, path recursions in movement ecology and the ecology of fear in predator–prey studies. We synthesize these three lines of research, to underline the mechanisms driving these patterns and create a conceptual model for recursive movement behavior across species and spatio‐temporal scales. The emergence and complexity of recursive movement patterns are determined by the rate of resource recovery, environmental heterogeneity, the predictability of resource recovery, and the animal's cognitive capabilities. Our synthesis can be used to generate predictions within and among systems, as well as to promote the sharing of knowledge and methodologies gained in each sub‐field. Such sharing can greatly advance our understanding of behavioral and ecological processes and provide novel opportunities for future research.