Did Prince Harry Hunt Rare Birds?

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Tom Vezo, Anwar Hussein / Getty

Prince Harry was questioned by police over the death of a rare bird.

Even if you're a prince, being around the death of a rare bird doesn't fly.

Police questioned Britain's Prince Harry as part of an investigation into the killing of two rare hen harriers last week at the royal family's Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, England a spokesperson at Clarence House confirmed Wednesday. The prince, an avid outdoorsman, and an unidentified friend were nearby when the birds were shot, and press reports have suggested the two were the only hunters on the estate at the time.

"Because Prince Harry and a friend were both in the area at the time, the police have been in contact with them and asked them if they had any information that could help," the official told TIME. "Unfortunately, they had no knowledge of the alleged incident."

Fewer than 20 breeding pairs of hen harriers, a legally protected bird of prey, are left in England. Hen harriers are one of two birds on the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds' "red list" — a designation reserved for species facing the greatest peril. Harry's grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, is a patron of the RSPB.

Persecution of such a highly endangered bird can elicit stiff penalties: under wildlife protection legislation, the perpetrator could receive up to six months in prison or a 5,000 fine (about $10,000). According to Richard Brunstrom, chief constable of the North Wales Police, it is "likely" the culpable party would receive prison time if found. "The courts have made it fairly clear in these sorts of offenses that imprisonment is a reasonable proposition," Brunstrom added in a video message on the RSPB's Web site.

The severity of the offense could be tempered if the shooting is judged to have been accidental, but denying intent may prove difficult in this case. Hen harriers are distinctive looking — males are silver with black wing tips, and females are dark brown. "It would be very difficult to mistake them for a game bird," said John Clare, a spokesman for the RSPB.

Clare added that while hen harriers don't generally breed in Norfolk, "this is a bird that is obviously very rare in England. We do not need them being shot." They are unusually reviled here, Clare said, because they eat grouse and other game birds, depleting the stock available for hunting. He blamed "systemic" illegal killing of the birds for their dwindling numbers, noting that England's habitat could support ten times as many hen harriers than currently exist.

Reached on Wednesday, a Norfolk Constabulary spokesman said: "The investigation is ongoing. We are interviewing three people and will be making a report to the Crown Prosecution Service for a decision."

The 23-year-old prince, third in line to the British throne, has been embroiled in several embarrassing incidents over the past few years. He was photographed sporting a Nazi Africa Korps uniform, replete with swastika armband, at a costume party in January 2005, and has fielded allegations from the British press for smoking marijuana and underage drinking. Video footage surfaced earlier in October that appeared to show him snorting vodka.