Record Numbers of high quality birds are being stolen from amateur keepers in the UK, an expert has warned.
Thousands of budgerigars, canaries and finches have been taken in around 60 burglaries in the last two years, according to the National Theft Register which records thefts of animals around the country.
John Hayward, who runs the organisation, said criminals targeted exhibition-standard birds bred to appear at shows and the total value of those stolen in the recent spate of crimes runs to hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Owners have been left devastated after working to perfect their collections for many years.
None have been recovered and Mr Hayward, a former police detective, believes they have been stolen to order by “highly organised” criminals before being smuggled out of the country.
He told the Press Association the rate of thefts of high standard birds currently being reported is unprecedented in the 20 years since the register was set up.
He said: “There has been a dramatic increase. This is a developing, increasing series in the last two years which has never happened at this level.”
Mr Hayward suspects thieves are exploiting the high standard of bird breeding in the UK, as well as a lack of security around aviaries.
“I think the thieves have latched on to the fact that this is an easy target and highly lucrative,” he said. “One of the reasons we have been targeted is we have arguably the best breeders in the world.”
It is thought likely the stolen birds are placed into breeding programmes to produce offspring that can be put up for sale without fear of detection.
Owners cannot display a bird at a show unless they have a closed, identifiable ring, Mr Hayward said.
“They are probably going into private breeding programmes throughout Europe. You can produce chicks and put your own rings on them and then put them on the open market,” he said.
He called for owners to improve security measures such as setting up CCTV cameras around bird sheds.