Racing pigeons stolen from Cullybackey were Irish champions
A successful racing pigeon owner has said he is considering giving up the sport he loves after thieves stole about 50 of his most valuable birds.
Harry McCloy told the BBC he has lost several all-Ireland champion racing pigeons in the weekend theft from his loft in Cullybackey, County Antrim.
He said the thieves "knew exactly what they were looking for" as they took all his champion racers and left others.
Police said the stolen birds are estimated to be worth about £8,000.
The theft took place from outside the father-of-three's home sometime between Friday and Saturday, while the family were away on a weekend break.
Mr McCloy took up the sport in 2006 but his relatives have been involved in pigeon racing for at least three generations.
His uncles were founding members of the pigeon club in Cullybackey and he still races under their team name, Reid Brothers and McCloy.
His own birds have won several prizes in the all-island Irish National Flying Club championship over the last few years.
Mr McCloy said he gets up at about 05:30 every day to care for his pigeons as "you need to spend time with them to do it right".
He said he has spent years trying to build up his racing stock and feels "gutted" that someone came to his family home to steal his birds.
"My racing season is over," Mr McCloy told the BBC, saying all his candidates for upcoming races in France had been taken in the burglary.
He said he suspects other pigeon fanciers may be responsible and that they must have come prepared, with baskets or carriers to transport the birds.
There was no evidence of damage to the loft or any of the birds.
Thirty-eight of the 50 birds stolen were racing pigeons, but Mr Mc Cloy said the thieves had also taken stock birds, which were even more valuable.
About 30 less expensive pigeons were left behind by the thieves.
Mr McCloy said if any of his birds manage to escape from the thieves they will instinctively fly home to him, but he appealed to anyone who knew anything about the theft to contact police.
In 2010, 18 prize pigeons were stolen from a loft at Woodtown Road in Ballymena, County Antrim.