Thieves cut their way into Grenville and Patricia Norris's aviary and handpicked the thoroughbred normals - the most common variety of budgerigar - from their stable of 250 birds.
The intruders made off with the grey greens, blues and a pied hen, on Friday evening after Mrs Norris, 43, popped into the couple's house in Stowmarket, Suffolk, to make her husband's tea. The aviary's alarm system was not switched on because she thought she was only going to be away for half an hour.
The couple, who won the world budgerigar breeding championships in 1989 and 1990, are crestfallen. Mr Norris, 58, who has been breeding budgies for 45 years and is this year's Budgerigar Society Breeder of the Year, said yesterday that the thieves had stolen his entire show team, including several breeding pairs - 'the future bloodline for British breeders', probably to order for sale abroad.
'These were the top birds in the country,' he says. 'You can get just as much skullduggery in budgerigar breeding as in horse racing. There is money to be made. My wife and I are devastated but we will start again.'
By now, Mr Norris believes, the birds will have flown the country as well as the coop - via Felixstowe, Harwich or Dover. Suffolk police are investigating.