Pigeon covered in poison used as bait to kill protected falcon in Tyrone
A live pigeon was coated with poison, tethered and used as bait to kill a protected bird of prey in Co Tyrone.
The PSNI is investigating the death of a peregrine falcon and pigeon in the Scraghy area of Castlederg.
DUP MLA and wildlife enthusiast Jim Wells said he received a tip-off over the incident at a remote nesting site, and found the remains of the pigeon on a piece of string covered in suspected poison.
Mr Wells, a member of the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group (NIRSG), said he believed an adult falcon had eaten the pigeon and then regurgitated it and fed it to its offspring, resulting in the death of a juvenile peregrine.
It was discovered at around 10pm on July 10.
A monitoring group also said that an adult peregrine falcon is now missing.
Mr Wells said it was likely to be one of the most serious incidents of peregrine persecution in Northern Ireland for several years.
"This is nasty, very cruel and callous," he added.
"We don't know what the suspected poison is, but if someone had come along and tried to help the pigeon it could have hurt them too.
"This has happened on several occasions in areas of Co Tyrone.
"There are around 15 sites in Tyrone, it's an important breeding ground.
"But in some areas there is still a culture of poisoning birds, which is very damaging to the overall population.
"All of the peregrine sites in Co Tyrone are monitored on a regular basis every year.
"This research has revealed that illegal persecution remains a problem in some parts of the county.
"The peregrine falcon once faced extinction due to the use of pesticides, and now its recovery is threatened by those who seek to kill adults and young using totally illegal and reckless methods.
"There are those who want to prevent people living in this area from seeing the fastest bird in the world."
NIRSG raptor officer Dr Eimear Rooney, who is also representative in Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime NI, said that monitoring revealed a dead juvenile, a missing adult and evidence that a pigeon had been tethered to a rock below the nest.
She described the incident as "heinous", and said that illegal killing could cause serious implications for the peregrine falcon population here.
She added: "Each year there are between 80 and 90 breeding pairs of peregrines across the whole of Northern Ireland, of which around 55 pairs are successful in producing young.
"Only a handful of these sites are located in Co Tyrone.
"The population of peregrines in Northern Ireland is limited by available nest sites and thus has remained fairly stable for several years.
"However, illegal killing could result in serious implication for the viability of the species here.
"Peregrine falcons are primary predators and removal of such predators from our ecosystems can have serious consequences on a wide range of species.
"It's deeply frustrating to think that someone went out of their way to target these birds in such a heinous manner."
The PSNI said that enquiries are ongoing, and urged anyone with information to contact them on the non-emergency 101 number.