Shooter blasted protected red kite out of sky in Northern Ireland
Police are investigating after an endangered bird was shot dead.
The young red kite was found with suspected gunshot wounds on a public laneway outside Moneyslane in Co Down.
The red kite, tagged 'Black 5W', was born in May at a nest site near Downpatrick and was exploring the countryside before its premature death.
Alan Ferguson from RSPB NI said it appeared that someone had deliberately targeted the bird.
"Any loss of these under-threat birds is utterly heartbreaking," he said.
"Our red kite population in Northern Ireland is small at just 20 breeding pairs and that makes it particularly vulnerable to losses.
"It would appear that someone has deliberately targeted one of these beautiful creatures, so this is incredibly frustrating and upsetting and is a real setback for the future of the species here."
Red kites, along with all birds of prey, are protected under the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985, as amended by the Wildlife and Natural Environment (NI) Act 2011.
The bird was recovered last Thursday by the RSPB, however, details of the incident were only made public yesterday.
The PSNI has been notified.
An initial X-ray showed pieces of shot in the bird and it has now been sent for a post-mortem examination.
PSNI wildlife officer Emma Meredith said: "The PSNI takes 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."
Police have joined forces with other agencies including the National Wildlife Crime Unit, Northern Ireland Environment Agency and RSPB to launch Operation Raptor.
The multi-agency taskforce aims to highlight the killing of birds of prey and to pinpoint known hotspot areas in order to combat the crime.
Ms Meredith added: "The Operation Raptor campaign was launched in March 2016 and is designed to encourage members of the public to report to the PSNI and also to warn offenders they could face a custodial sentence and/or fine (up to £5,000) if they are caught targeting birds of prey through poisoning, shooting or trapping."
Red kites are mainly scavengers, feeding on road kill and other dead animals they find on their foraging flights.
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 managing pest species.
Red kites were persecuted to extinction across Ireland 200 years ago.
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.
Police have appealed for information about the shooting dead of the red kite.
Anyone with information can contact officers on the non-emergency number 101 or via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111, quoting reference number 837 of 17/8/17.