Red kites found shot and poisoned in Highlands
Two red kites have been added to a toll of 16 birds of prey recorded as having been illegally killed in the Highlands last year.
The two raptors were found near Beauly and Cawdor following a poisoning incident that killed 12 kites and four buzzards near Conon Bridge.
Details about the two kites have been released following the conclusion of police inquiries into their deaths.
The one found near Beauly was shot and the other was poisoned.
No-one has been charged in connection with the incidents.
Police Scotland said investigating wildlife crime was challenging, but added that its detection rate of offences was increasing.
The female bird found near Cawdor was part of a breeding pair at Cawdor Castle that in 2014 became Nairnshire's first breeding pair of red kites in 100 years.
Both dead kites had been satellite tagged by conservationists.
Duncan Orr-Ewing, of RSPB Scotland, said: "Since red kite reintroductions began in Scotland in 1989, over 100 birds have been confirmed as illegally killed, with a significant majority of the victims found poisoned.
"The real figure will be much higher as the finding of these satellite tagged birds demonstrates."
The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said it had been unaware of the two additional incidents.
Chairman Alex Hogg said: "This is the first we have heard of any such incidents and we do not know the possible causes which makes it difficult to comment further.
"The Scottish Gamekeepers Association has a clear and consistent line and does not condone wildlife crime. The use of illegal poison has no place in modern Scotland."
A spokesman for Scottish Land & Estates said: "We support any appeal for information about the suspicious deaths of birds of prey and the poisoning of any bird is cause for deep concern.
"We will assist Police Scotland as the leading investigative body to offer any assistance."
A police spokesman said: "Investigating wildlife crime is challenging because of its nature, and the vast areas covered.
"Police Scotland works closely with partners including the RSPB to tackle wildlife crime, and brings to bear the full range of investigative techniques at its disposal.
"Our detection rate is increasing. Our aim is to reduce wildlife crime and earlier this year we launched a campaign raising awareness."
A spokesman for Cawdor Estate said: "The Cawdor Estate was not aware of an alleged poisoning of a red kite, found in woodland in the area close to Cawdor, until we saw an RSPB press release yesterday.
"As we received no contact from Police Scotland nor the RSPB at the time of the discovery of the bird in 2014 nor since, we have no reason to believe this was found on Cawdor Estate land.
"Any illegal persecution of protected species such as the red kite is absolutely abhorrent and we strongly condemn anyone found guilty of such an act."