RSPB NI and the PSNI are appealing for information after a young red kite that was found dead in County Down.
The bird was found with suspected gunshot wounds on a public laneway outside Moneyslane (halfway between Banbridge and Newcastle) on Thursday 17 August and was recovered by the RSPB and passed to the PSNI. An initial x-ray indicated there are pieces of shot in the bird and it has now been sent for a post-mortem examination.
The red kite, tagged ‘Black 5W’, was born in May 2017 at a nest site near Downpatrick and was exploring the County Down countryside before its premature death.
Alan Ferguson, RSPB NI RKites Project Officer, said: “Any loss of these under-threat birds is utterly heartbreaking. Our red kite population in Northern Ireland is small at just twenty 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.
“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.”
In fact, RSPB NI’s new RKites Project has been supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and part funded by Newry Mourne and Down District Council, and Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council and aims to strengthen the link between people and the red kites.
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.
Police are appealing for information on the incident and have asked that anyone who can help with enquiries contact the 101 number quoting reference number 837 of 17/8/17.
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 (Agri-food and Biosciences Institute, Health and Safety Executive, National Wildlife Crime Unit, Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group and RSPB NI), have been involved in the launch of Operation Raptor, designed to raise the profile of killing of birds of prey and to highlight known ‘hot spot’ areas to combat this type of crime.
“The Operation Raptor campaign was launched in March 2016 is designed to encourage members of the public to report to 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 the island of 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.
Anyone with information on the incident can contact police on the non-emergency number 101 or anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111, quoting reference number 837 of 17/8/17.