Dancing To Nature's Tune: Starlings Delight Over Doncaster

Starling Murmation (c) Phil Selby

Sundown at Potteric Carr nature reserve in Doncaster. Without warning, calm skies are suddenly filled with a whirling, liquid-like mass of birds, moving in stunning synchronicity. This is a starling murmuration, one of nature’s awe-inspiring spectacles – and the reserve offers the perfect vantage point from which to enjoy it.

Up to 50,000 starlings visit Potteric Carr between November and January, where they roost in reed beds. With acres of sky above you, and the promise of a hot drink in the on-site café afterwards, it’s worth braving winter’s chill to see a murmuration in action.

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.

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 centre offers the perfect opportunity to grab a coffee or bite to eat. Settle in to watch nature at its best!”. Ask at the Visitor Centre when you arrive to find out where to see the murmurations. Please note that they can sometimes be a reasonable distance from the centre - a half hour walk or so.

As well as commanding compelling views of the lake and reed beds, Potteric Carr boasts a wonderful gift shop and welcoming tea room, as well as several miles of level trails. With plenty of events happening for adults and children across the cooler months, it’s the ideal destination for your winter wildlife fix.

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.