An animal charity fears two young white-tailed eagles may have been illegally killed.
RSPB Scotland say that transmissions from the two satellite-tagged birds ended on July 22, with one last recorded over a grouse moor in Inverness-shire, and the other over an Aberdeenshire grouse moor.
The Inverness-shire grouse moor is in an area with a history of bird of prey persecution, including numerous suspicious disappearances of tagged golden eagles over several years.
These incidents led the Scottish Government to commission an independent review in 2016 into the fates of satellite-tagged golden eagles in Scotland, with the subsequent report finding that a third of these birds had most likely been illegally killed.
The birds that disappeared in July were both from the first generation of chicks from breeding pairs in the tiny white-tailed eagle population in east Scotland.
Illegal persecution lead to white-tailed eagles becoming extinct in Scotland in 1918.
The birds have returned to this eastern part of the country through a reintroduction project run by RSPB Scotland, Forestry Commission Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage between 2007 and 2012.
Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s head of investigations, said: “Yet again, rare, protected birds of prey have disappeared in highly suspicious circumstances, with their last known locations on grouse moors.
“And yet again, we can be almost certain that these birds have been killed, with those responsible destroying all the evidence.
“The disappearance of these two eagles is more than a loss of two birds; it means any future breeding success they might have had, helping to boost the numbers of these rare birds, has also been destroyed.
“Illegal persecution is seriously undermining the re-establishment of a white-tailed eagle population in this part of Scotland.”
The National Wildlife Crime Unit and Police Scotland were immediately notified after the birds went missing and, under routine procedure, were provided with the tags’ data to allow them to make a separate independent assessment of the birds’ likely fates.
Follow-up investigations by the police, including searches of the final known locations of the birds, have yielded no further information as to their likely demise.
Neither bird, nor their transmitters, have been seen or heard from subsequently, strongly suggesting that they have been illegally killed.
Anyone with information about either of these birds or any other wildlife crime is urged to contact Police Scotland on 101 or call the RSPB’s raptor crime hotline on 0300 999 0101.