Belfast Telegraph

Protected red kites poisoned in Northern Ireland

The PSNI have launched an investigation after a pair of protected birds died after being poisoned in Co Down.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) NI and the PSNI have appealed for information after the pair of protected red kites died.

A male bird was found in distress close to a known nest site in the Katesbridge area on April 24. A member of the public alerted RSPB NI but the bird died shortly afterwards.

When the RSPB NI red kite project officer attended the scene, she found the female parent bird immobile on the nest – she too was dead. A rescue mission was launched in an attempt to save three orphaned eggs found in the nest beneath the deceased mother.

The bodies of the parent birds were collected and taken for toxicology testing by the PSNI. This has now revealed that both birds – known as Blue 21 and Red 63 because of their identifying tags - died from Carbofuran poisoning.

Red kites, along with all birds of prey, are protected in Northern Ireland under the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985, as amended by the Wildlife and Natural Environment (NI) Act 2011. Carbofuran is a highly toxic pesticide which has been banned across the EU since 2001 due to its high toxicity towards wildlife and humans.

Red kites mostly hunt within 2.5km of their nest site. The male bird brings food for the incubating female bird, so it is possible that the male bird found a poisoned bait – such as a rabbit – and likely brought this back to the nest to feed the female bird. The dead male’s first partner (Blue 13) also died by poisoning in 2014 in the same area.

Under licence from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), the rescue operation ensured that the three eggs were fostered into two wild red kite nests, alongside other eggs, in the hope of saving them.

In one of the nests two transferred eggs failed as they were found intact (unhatched) during a follow-up inspection. In the other nest - which hosted one adoptive egg alongside two other eggs - one chick was found on the nest. As there were no egg shell remains it’s unknown if the sole chick on this nest was from the donor egg.

A nestcam was installed by RSPB NI to monitor this chick – which was named ‘Solo’ by RSPB NI red kite volunteers. This is the first time staff have been able to monitor behaviour and development as well as share the red kite’s early life with the public and schools participating in the RKites project, a funded red kite education and engagement project. A live stream on the nest is available to view at www.rspb.org.uk/niredkites

Red kites were persecuted to extinction across the island of Ireland 200 years ago. A decade ago this summer, in 2008, the RSPB - along with project partners the Golden Eagle Trust and Welsh Kite Trust - began a reintroduction project that has been successful in encouraging the birds to breed here.

Like all birds of prey in Northern Ireland, red kites are specially protected as a Schedule 1 species under The Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 (as amended). As a Schedule 1 bird, red kites are protected by special penalty and their nests are also provided with protection all year under Schedule A1. Those found guilty of persecution could be given a custodial sentence and/or fines of up to £5,000 per offence.

Mark Thomas, Senior Investigations Officer at the RSPB, said: “Carbofuran has a history of being used to kill birds of prey. Like all birds of prey, red kites are protected by law.

“There have been ten confirmed red kite persecution incidents recorded in this area in the last decade. This is not acceptable. We urge anyone with information about this incident to contact the police immediately on 101.”

Anyone with information can contact police on the non-emergency number 101 or anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111. quoting reference number 802 of 24/4/18.

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