One of the residents of the Hawk Conservancy Centre took the phrase ‘free as a bird’ too literally at the weekend.

Elder, one of the centre’s barn owls, was taking part in the Owls by Moonlight event on Saturday, October 17, which promises visitors can “watch these mystical birds twist and turn through the night sky.”

However, the owl hen was reported by a member of staff as having flown off during the display, disappearing into the Test Valley countryside.

Staff and volunteers began the search, while posts on social media asked members of the public to keep an eye out for Elder, with one suggesting she was somewhere in the East Cholderton valley.

Members of the public reported numerous potential sightings, from locations such as Kimpton and Shrewton, to aid the hunt.

It’s not the first time Elder has refused to perform. In a Facebook Live stream back in April, she repeatedly refused to demonstrate her hunting abilities by grabbing a piece of food.

As bird team member Tom Morath said at the time: “As a birds team, we definitely find that It’s the owls that can be the most tricky birds to try new things with. They’re very much creatures of habit.”

He continued: “We don’t really want the birds to do anything they’d rather not do. We can offer them the opportunity to get involved and take part in enrichment, but if they can’t be bothered, there’s not much me, or any of the bird team, can do about that.”

Elder is not the first bird of play to disappear during a flying display in Hampshire. An eagle owl named Brexit lived up to her name by disappearing from a Ringwood-based falconry centre on the initial date Britain was said to be leaving the EU in 2019.

The Hawk Conservancy Centre was contacted for an update, but did not respond by the time this article went to press.