BIRDS worth thousands of pounds have been stolen, leaving their owner devastated.
Derek Johnston, from Silksworth, had 27 birds, worth about £4,500, taken from his garden.
The retired gas engineer has bred birds since he was a child and has been left inconsolable by the break-in.
The thieves ripped open the aviary he built and took every bird, which included silver goldfinch males, hybrid finches and two brown linnet male birds.
“I’m absolutely devastated and I feel really empty now,” said Mr Johnston, “It’s so hurtful what they have done.
“When I discovered the break-in there were feathers all over the place and they had smashed some of the eggs.
“They even took some of the parents and left the youngsters who have now died. It’s absolutely heartbreaking.
“To me, it’s not just the money, but the birds themselves.”
The 55-year-old added: “I have been keeping birds since I was a kid and as I’m now retired, I have no idea what to do with myself now they have gone.
“They are effectively my savings as I have invested a lot in them through breeding and then selling them on.”
Mr Johnston has won awards for the birds he has bred and he said the ones that were taken were the only ones of their kind in the country.
Along with a friend in Belgium, he has won recognition for the work he does because the birds he breeds are rare.
But he said whoever took them will struggle to sell them on without questions being asked as to where they came from.
“I had someone come to my house a few months ago asking about how much it would cost to buy them, because I’m quite successful in this field for breeding birds.
“When you are successful, people get to know what types of birds you have, but they are going to be very hard to sell because they are so beautiful.
“Hopefully someone will ask where they came from.
“I’ve told my friends around the country who keep birds as well and it’s been put on bird websites which should help.
“I know the police have fibres from their gloves and their coat and they also have the car registration number.
“I hope I get them back, but I’m not holding out too much hope. It’s such a terrible feeling.
“The people who did this are evil, evil people.”
Police believe the theft, which took place between 9.30pm on Thursday and 1pm Friday, could be linked to a break-in at a nearby allotment that happened around the same time as the theft of Mr Johnston’s birds.
Tools including a hammer, crowbar and screwdriver were stolen from a shed in Pembroke Avenue.
Police think the thieves may have used the stolen tools to break into the aviary.
Officers are appealing for anyone who saw any suspicious people or vehicles in Ruswarp Drive or Pembroke Avenue on Thursday night or Friday morning.
Anyone with information about the whereabouts of the birds should call 101.