Local man Alan Ferguson has been appointed as RSPB NI's new Red Kite Monitoring Officer.
Alan (35) began volunteering with the nature conservation charity back in 2011 at its Portmore Lough nature reserve near Moira.
This experience sparked his interest in birds of prey and he began monitoring various species for the RSPB and the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group, including peregrines, hen harriers and red kites.
Red kites are magnificent birds of prey which were persecuted to extinction here more than 200 years ago.
Back in 2008 RSPB NI joined forced with the Welsh Kite Trust and the Golden Eagle Trust to reintroduce the species to Northern Ireland's skies.
Over two years, dozens of young red kites were released into County Down and every year since 2010 these re-located kites have produced their own chicks.
Unfortunately, the project hasn't been without its setbacks, with a number of birds dying from poisoning, shooting or natural causes.
The current population is thought to stand at around 21 breeding pairs and, although no further releases are planned, it's vital the charity continues to monitor the population until it is at a sustainable level - estimated to be around 50 pairs.
Alan said: "I'm delighted to be the new NI Red Kite Monitoring Officer. Working for the RSPB and, in particular, with birds of prey has been a lifelong ambition of mine. To have the opportunity to be part of the story of red kites in Northern Ireland is something I've only dreamt about. My hopes are for a successful 2017 breeding season, with lots of healthy chicks being born and fledging successfully."
He added: "The threat of persecution still persists but I think attitudes are slowly beginning to change. I'm keen to see the public really embrace and take pride in these beautiful birds - that will be crucial in helping red kites spread far and wide and become a familiar sight in skies all across Northern Ireland."
With Alan now in post, and ably assisted by a team of volunteers, RSPB NI is able to carry out detailed on-the-ground monitoring of this special species. However, the more pairs of eyes searching the skies the better!
Red kites are easily recognisable by their rusty-red colouring, forked tail, white patches under each wing and inky black wing tips, not to mention their five-and-a-half-feet wingspan!
To report a red kite sighting, email email@example.com Sightings where wing tags are read are most helpful but even sightings of untagged kites, or where the tags could not be read, are also extremely useful.
Red kites are a protected and causing them harm is an offence under the Wildlife Order (NI) 1985, so the RSPB is also asking people to report any signs of persecution to the PSNI on 101 or anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
Last Updated: Tuesday 28 August 2018