POLICE are investigating the death of five hen harrier chicks found crushed on moorland on the Isle of Skye.
Bird of prey monitors said the chicks, which are a protected species, were healthy in the middle of last month. But when they returned to the nest last week, they found just remains.
The find was reported to Northern Constabulary, which is investigating whether offences have been committed under the Wildlife Act.
A spokesman said: "The remains have been taken to the Scottish Agricultural College in Aberdeen and a post-mortem is being carried out. The birds may have died from natural causes or from poisoning or from being stamped upon but it is too early to tell."
The remains were found on Vicaskill Farm near Edinbane in the north of the island on land designated for a windfarm. The hen harrier chicks were discovered by Bob McMillan, a member of the local raptor study group. He believes they died from crush injuries rather than being attacked by predators.
He said: "I have been watching the nest since the eggs were laid. I saw the chicks a fortnight previously and I think they were probably killed a couple of days after that.
I believe they were stomped upon but we will have to wait for confirmation."
Hen harriers are renowned as the most persecuted birds of prey in the UK because they eat young grouse.
Only 630 pairs remain in the wild in the UK, most in Scotland. But, according to scientific studies carried out for the environmental charity the RSPB, they are conspicuous by their absence on grouse moors which should be prime habitat.
Reports of persecution in the west of Scotland are rare.
The RSPB last week revealed that the number of crimes reported against birds of prey in the UK last year rose 40% last year to an all-time high. Some 34 birds of prey were shot, while 49 were poisoned, with gamekeepers blamed for persecution of protected species.
But the Scottish Countryside Alliance said the RSPB figures were "misleading".
Tim Baynes, Moorlands Director with the SCA, said: "There is a discrepancy between the number of incidents 'reported' and the number of confirmed incidents or legal actions taken. The result is a report which is misleading."