PICTURE: Incredible cloud of thousands of starlings over Doncaster

The starling murmuration over Doncaster. (Photo: YWT/Phil Selby).
The starling murmuration over Doncaster. (Photo: YWT/Phil Selby).

This is the mesmerising moment a huge cloud of thousands of starlings gathered in the skies above Doncaster.

The birds made for a startling spectacle as they gathered in their thousands over Potteric Carr nature reserve earlier this week.

Up to 50,000 starlings visit the site between November and January, where they roost in reed beds viewable from the visitor centre’s outdoor deck.

Though it looks as if they’re guided by some supernatural force, each bird’s movement affects the closest seven birds around it, causing a lightning-fast chain reaction across the flock.

This creates the impression of a single, undulating entity, writhing in the sky like smoke - and is known as a murmuration.

The starlings’ aerobatics could be a collective effort to create warmth before settling down to roost, or a reaction to a predator nearby, often unseen by human observers.

Finding safety in numbers, the birds may go through their spectacular evasive manoeuvres to avoid being picked off by the razor-sharp talons of a sparrowhawk or peregrine falcon.

Andy Dalton, Potteric Carr programme manager said: “These stunning murmurations brighten up our winter nights as the sun starts to go down in the sky.

"The deck in front of the Potteric Carr visitor centre is the best place to view the starlings swooping overhead, and the centre offers the perfect opportunity to grab a coffee or bite to eat, too. Settle in to watch nature at its best!”

As well as commanding compelling views of the lake and reed beds, Potteric Carr boasts a gift shop and tea room, as well as several miles of level trails.

Entrance to the visitor centre is free but there is a small admission charge to access the nature reserve. Members of Yorkshire Wildlife Trust have free access.

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust is the largest charity dedicated solely to reversing the decline of Yorkshire’s wildlife both on land at sea. It relies on the support of the public and a range of funding bodies to continue its work.

Early evening, just before dusk, is the best time to see them across the UK.