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Last Updated: Friday, 8 February 2008, 14:22 GMT
Shell shock at owls' early eggs
Mexican burrowing owl
The owls usually lay eggs in late March or April
A pair of owls have stunned staff at a falconry centre by producing two thumbnail-sized eggs eight weeks earlier than usual.

Experts say it is "unheard of" for the Mexican burrowing owls, who live at Woodlands Park, Dartmouth, Devon, to lay eggs in February.

But now, keepers are hoping owls Chica and Chico will soon be parents.

Staff believe the spring-like weather has fooled the birds into laying almost eight weeks early.

Standing just 5ins (12.7cm) tall, the owls come from North and South America and although they do fly, they also hunt grasshoppers and scorpions on the ground.

They tend to take over tunnels normally dug by rabbits and ground hogs and usually lay a clutch of two or three eggs in late March or April.

Chico and Chica have only been at the centre for three weeks and their burrow has been fitted with CCTV to keep an eye on the eggs, which are expected to hatch at the beginning of March.

'Hissing noise'

Keeper Geoff Pearson and his wife Lyn have worked hard preparing a natural habitat for the pair.

Mr Pearson said: "I could not believe my eyes when I saw the egg.

"It is rare for these birds to breed in captivity. We are keeping feathers crossed that visitors will soon see baby burrowing owls.

"Chico stands guard outside whilst Chica chirps and whistles to him to come inside.

"They even make a hissing and rattling noise like a rattle snake to scare off intruders.

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