The theft of the rare white peacock and two white peahens from Upton House, a stately home near Poole in Dorset, has sparked a nationwide hunt, with police describing it as a "very unusual theft".
A trail of feathers was left on the quarter-mile path from the peacock's wire enclosure to the gates of the stately home, from where the thieves are thought to have made off in a vehicle.
The peacocks have, in the past, incurred the wrath of residents who have complained about them making too much noise. The birds are known for producing a viciously loud squawk when handled but, on the night of the crime, nothing was heard.
"Although there were some feathers, we suspect the birds were carried carefully away rather than someone just breaking in to mess around," said Nick Woods, head ranger at the Borough of Poole, which owns the estate. "That suggests that someone took them to sell. It's possible they were stolen to order."
The grounds of Upton House spread over 100 acres of woodland, parkland and shoreline. Its birds are kept in wire enclosures to protect them from foxes.
"This was the only white peacock we had," said Mike Yeomans, chairman of the charity that looks after the grounds. "I suspect it's a bird collector with a large house who wants them for his garden."
The birds, valued at between £50 and £200, do not have names.