A farmer has been referred to prosecutors for allegedly shooting and killing a protected red-crowned crane with an air gun on the northernmost main island of Hokkaido, investigative sources said Monday.

The man in his 60s was referred to prosecutors by police on Friday on suspicion of violating the law on conservation of an endangered species by shooting the bird on his farmland in the town of Ikeda on June 5, the sources said.

Red-crowned cranes, designated as a Japanese special national treasure, flutter on a feeding ground in the Hokkaido village of Tsurui, northern Japan, on Feb. 3, 2021. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

The man told Kyodo News he saw cranes that were about to enter his field and fired five shots to scare them away, but found one crane lying on the ground and reported to the police.

The crane had been hit by two bullets, the sources said.

The farmer also explained that cranes had started to frequently visit his fields from around five years ago, claiming that the birds caused annual damage totaling over 1 million yen ($9,000) one time by stomping on onions and other vegetables as they entered the fields searching for food.

Red-crowned cranes, designated as a Japanese special national treasure, are seen in Tsurui, Hokkaido, northern Japan, on Feb. 13, 2020. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

The species, designated a special national natural treasure, was once on the verge of extinction but its population has been recovering due to preservation efforts by the state and local governments.

"If the state and local governments implement the protection policy, they need to firmly take measures against damage to crops at the same time," the man said, adding it has become usual for the cranes to appear in the fields except in winter.

Regarded as one of the largest cranes with a body length of about 140 centimeters and a wingspan of 250 cm, the red-crowned crane, also called the Japanese crane, is the only crane species that breeds in Japan, according to the Environment Ministry.