A HAMPSHIRE bird breeder is counting the cost after burglars broke into his aviary and stole more than 40 exotic birds.

Nigel Darley, 64, was asleep at his home  when thieves broke into outbuildings and stole birds and equipment worth around £2,000.

The haul included Mexican house finches, java sparrows, and Bengalese finches – all birds that Mr Darley, secretary of the Basingstoke and District Cage Bird Society, has kept and bred as a hobby.

An egg incubator, a catching net and three cages were also taken in the raid in New Road, Tadley.

The raiders cut a hole in the tall hedge of Mr Darley’s next-door neighbour to access a large cage where some of Mr Darley’s birds were kept.

A bulb from a security light had also been removed.

Mr Darley said: “I think it is someone who has come here legitimately before to look at the birds. They had it all worked out.

“When I saw the birds had gone, I felt numb. I had no feeling of emotion, although that might have been different if I had caught one of the thieves in the act.”

Mr Darley, who has kept birds for more than 50 years, said he will go to bird fairs to see if he can spot any of the stolen birds up for sale.

He is now installing new locks and CCTV to secure his remaining birds.

Police have appealed for witnesses.