Red Kite found shot dead near Gateshead
A red kite, one of the UK's most highly protected birds of prey, has been found shot dead and riddled with shotgun pellets.
The adult bird was discovered in Chopwell Wood, near Gateshead, where the protected species was reintroduced in 2004.
Police are investigating the shooting, which has been condemned by the Friends of the Red Kite (FoRK) group.
Three red kites were found poisoned in the same area last year.
FoRK's welfare officer Allan Withrington said a red kite had also recently been shot and injured near Malton in North Yorkshire.
"That anyone could even think about shooting these beautiful, graceful birds is beyond my comprehension," he said.
"We are saddened by yet another wildlife crime and look forward to hearing the results of the police investigation."
Red kites are protected under schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and anyone found killing one can face up to six months in jail.
Mr Withrington said FoRK, which monitors red kite numbers, was working with police, the RSPB and Natural England to identify so-called "persecution hotspots" and encourage the public to report suspicious incidents close to 19 known nesting sites.
Last year about 25 red kite chicks were known to have fledged in the north east England, down from 35 the previous year.
There are about 1,000 red kites in England.