POLICE are hunting thugs who shot rare bird chicks in their nest.
The Goshawk chicks were discovered dead in woods at Innerleithen in the Scottish Borders.
The pair were part of a tiny Scottish population of the bird of prey, which is estimated to have just 100 breeding pairs.
Experts described the loss as a blow for the species.
Lothian and Borders Wildlife Crime Officer, Ruaraidh Hamilton, said: “It is a bit of a tragedy for the local breeding goshawks that these two chicks have been killed.
“Enquiries are ongoing and we are appealing for anyone with information to get in touch with the police.”
Local councillor Gavin Logan called for those responsible to be hunted down.
He said: “It is disgraceful and all stops should be pulled out to find the perpetrators and bring them to book.”
Goshawks were once common across the UK but became extinct in the late 1800s due to loss of habitat and persecution.
They were reintroduced in the 70s when domesticated birds either escaped or were deliberately released.
An RSPB Scotland spokesman said the Borders chicks were unfortunate victims of an endemic problem.
He said: “Goshawks are scarce breeders in Scotland, with most pairs in the Borders and the north-east of the country.
“Sadly, just like other birds of prey they are still the victims of illegal trapping, shooting, poisoning and nest destruction.”
Scottish government figures show 32 birds were poisoned in Scotland last year, 22 of them birds of prey.
A total of 13 buzzards, seven red kites and four golden eagles were killed, but the Borders incident is thought to be the first time a nest has been shot at.
The Borders is also the site of the single largest number of dead birds found in Scotland by wildlife protection officers in a single search.
Seven years ago the remains of 22 buzzards, a tawny owl, a goshawk and a heron were recovered on a Peeblesshire estate.
Goshawks are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, which makes it illegal to kill or injure any wild bird, or to damage or destroy their nests or eggs.
They build large nests in quiet forests and return to the same nesting area each year. The secretive birds hunt small animals and birds, including crows, rooks and pigeons