A young red kite has been shot dead in Co Down, sparking concern from wildlife experts – particularly given the small population of the under-threat bird in Northern Ireland.
There are only 20 breeding pairs of red kites in Northern Ireland and they, along with all birds of prey, are protected under the Wildlife and Natural Environment Act.
Efforts have been ongoing over the last few years to reintroduce the birds after they became extinct across the island of Ireland 200 years ago.
But a red kite, just about three months old, was found with suspected gunshot wounds on a public laneway outside Moneyslane, between Banbridge and Newcastle, last week.
It was recovered by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and passed to the PSNI, who are now investigating.
“Any loss of these under-threat birds is utterly heart-breaking,” Alan Ferguson, RSPB NI Red Kites Project Officer, said.
“RSPB NI have been working on a red kite reintroduction programme for nine years.
“I really thought we were turning a corner, because persecution incidents seemed to be dropping off and the last confirmed shooting of a red kite happened in Crossgar in 2014.
“People have really taken the birds to heart and are happy to see them in our skies again.”
Red kites are mainly scavengers, feeding on road kill and other dead animals. During the breeding season, adults will actively hunt young crows, magpies, rats and rabbits.
They are no threat to livestock or game and play an active role in the ecosystem by managing pests.
PSNI wildlife officer Emma Meredith said: “The PSNI take all reports of wildlife crime seriously.
“If anyone has information about the death of this protected bird, then we would be really keen to hear from you.”
The PSNI, along with partner agencies, have been involved in Operation Raptor - designed to encourage the public to report crimes against birds of prey and to highlight known ‘hot spot’ areas.
Police have appealed for anyone with information to contact them on 101, or anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.