A LIFE-LONG budgie fancier with severe cancer has been left heartbroken after thieves stole 30 of his birds during raids on his aviary.

Jack Whitehead, 78, of Duncombe Terrace, in Ferryhill, County Durham, was targeted by thieves during the night-time.

They twice broke into the aviary in the yard to the rear of his house within a month.

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The first time they took four budgies and a nest box and then four weeks later they returned to take the remaining 30 birds and nest boxes.

The second theft took place between 6pm on Friday, March 28, and the following morning. The crime was only discovered when Mr Whitehead went to see the birds.

Mr Whitehead, who needs oxygen all of the time, shares his home with his wife Betty, who uses a wheelchair, and daughter Dawn.

He said: “They were in a big aviary in a shed in the yard and I didn’t hear anyone.

“I have been looking after budgies since I was a boy. I breed them and I brought up the ones which were stolen.

“I don’t sell them or show them. I have given some away as it’s just a hobby to me.

“Whoever took them smashed the lock on the shed and the aviary to take them and then they shut it all back up again. They could have taken them in ten minutes.”

The thieves ignored other animals, including rabbits, which were in the yard. It is thought they scaled the rear wall to gain entry.

Mr Whitehead said: “The budgies were my life and they kept me going. I just lived for my budgies. They would fly to me and I used to talk to them.

“I am lost without them. I cried my eyes out when I saw that they were gone. I can’t sleep because of it.”

Mr Whitehead has been given five budgies by a neighbour, but he says he cannot afford to replace the stolen birds.

A police spokesman said: “It does not appear that anyone has been arrested for this offence and investigations are still ongoing.

“It is not usual for someone to be selling budgies and we would ask anyone who has details about this crime to contact the police on 101.”