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The rare gyrfalcon spotted by Chalkwell Beach. PHOTO: Natalie Ellis

A LEIGH mum was stunned to discover a giant two-foot-tall bird who posed for a photo and ‘locked eyes’ with her on the promenade was in fact a rare ‘missing’ falcon worth more than £330,000. Natalie Ellis had gone for an afternoon cycle along Chalkwell Beach last week.

The 50-year-old was caught by surprise when she looked up and ‘locked eyes’ with a two-foot tall, majestic white bird that was perched nonchalantly on the beachside railing. Natalie immediately got off her bicycle and walked over to the railing for a closer look, where the bird sat ‘calm and comfortable’ for another ten minutes while she took some snaps, before flying away.

Believing that the unidentified bird was a snow owl, the mum-of-one uploaded a series of photos of her new feathered friend on Facebook, wondering if someone had lost their pet. However, Natalie was in for a shock when a friend informed her that the bird was actually a very rare white Gyrfalcon – a bird of prey that has previously sold for £337,000 at auction.

Natalie, who works as a managing director for a pet product design company, was informed that the bird had travelled all the way from London and had been missing for several days.

The Gyrfalcon is the largest falcon in the world, and is characterised by pointed wings, black spots and a long tail. Natalie said: “I was looking down [riding my bike], and then I looked up, and as I looked up, I locked eyes with this bird.

“I was so close to it and it took me by surprise – and the bird seemed surprised as well. It seemed quite calm and comfortable around people.

“I thought it was a snow owl. It just came into my mind and I thought, ‘wow, it’s a snow owl’. And then people got involved on Facebook, and my friend messaged me and said that the bird was lost from London.

“It’s the largest falcon in the world, and rare. It’s amazing, it was sitting looking back at me on Chalkwell Beach. It was beautiful, and to think that it was so rare and so valuable makes it even more amazing.”

A white Gyrfalcon set a world record at the time for the most expensive falcon ever sold in September 2021, when it was sold for £337,000 in Saudi Arabia. Now, professional falconers and locals are on the lookout for the missing bird spotted by Natalie, with a £1,000 reward offered for its safe return.

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