A PEREGRINE falcon has been found shot dead in Bury.

The protected bird of prey was discovered at the Elton reservoir nature reserve by a birdwatcher on Sunday.

It is also believed that people had been shooting at woodpigeons, another protected species, in the area prior to the falcon's death.

RSPCA inspector Paul Heaton said: “This is such a horrible way to end the life of such a wonderful bird.

“Peregrine falcons are slowly making a return to the Greater Manchester area and are a fantastic bird to see - it is disgusting to think that someone would take pot shots at them.”

After making his heartbreaking discovery the birdwatcher contacted the RSPCA who took the bird to the Greater Manchester Animal Hospital.

There an x-ray revealed it had been shot with an air rifle, and it is believed the falcon may have been dead "a day or two" before it was found.

An investigation has since been launched and the RSPCA is appealing for anyone with any information to come forward.

Mr Heaton said: “This is a lovely nature reserve which is popular with walkers, birdwatchers and fishermen, so I am asking anyone who saw anything suspicious to get in touch.

“There were rumours that someone had been taking shots at woodpigeons too prior to this so we would like to hear from anyone who may know who is responsible."

Peregrine Falcons, which are the fastest animals on the planet, swooping to catch prey at speeds of 242 mph, are a protected species under UK law.

Just as for all wild birds, it is an offence to kill, injure or take them, except under licence; under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Anyone found guilty of the offences faces a maximum of six months in prison and an unlimited fine.

Anyone with information should call the RSPCA appeals line on 0300 123 8018.