DEAR JOAN: I have been hearing a weird bird call every night, all night long, for a week or so. It sounds something like "eep" every 10 seconds or so.

Recently this very bird flew onto a branch of a redwood tree across from my deck, and I was able to identify it as a young great horned owl.

Where are the parents? How long does it take for it to become an adult and start "hooting?"

Penny Wade

Rossmoor

DEAR PENNY: What you are hearing is a fledgling owl who still expects to be fed. For months now, mom and dad have been bringing it food, but now that it has fledged -- left the nest -- it needs to start hunting on its own.

A juvenile great horned owl.
A juvenile great horned owl. (Travis Heying/Wichita Eagle)

When fledglings start in with their "eeping," you'll often hear the parents hooting back. The male's voice is deeper than the female's, and her calls usually will end on a higher note. It would appear they are telling junior to hush up and find his own dinner.

The nesting season for great horned owls is in January and February. The female will lay up to four eggs, usually, depending on environmental conditions, and it takes up to 35 days for the eggs to hatch.

The young owls remain in the nest for quite a while. Usually, around 6 weeks old, they will begin venturing out onto limbs near the nest -- they are then called branchers -- but they aren't good fliers until they are about 10 weeks old.

After they begin to fly, the parents continue to feed them for several more weeks, slowly weaning them as they learn to hunt for themselves.

The families begin breaking up in early autumn. The youngsters fly off to claim new territories while the parents generally stick around, although they are only paired during the mating and rearing season.

Most people are only familiar with the hooting call of the great horned, but these owls have a larger vocabulary than that. They have different calls for a variety of occasions. Once junior stops calling for room service, he'll begin hooting. Knowing how to hoot is essential in attracting a mate.

DEAR JOAN: Recently the paper ran an article titled "Some 'bee friendly' plants may harm bees." It stated that a study conducted by the Friends of the Earth and the Pesticide Research Institute found some garden plants from major home and garden retailers have been treated with pesticides that could hurt and kill bees.

This is a concern to me because I make it a point to put in plants that attract bees as well as birds, butterflies and other beneficial insects to my yard. Is there anything I can do to eliminate the potential pesticides on the plants?

R. Reynolds

Oakland

DEAR R.: It's not so much that the pesticide is "on" the plants, it is that it is "in" them. As seeds or seedlings, these plants were treated with a systemic pesticide that binds in the plant's tissue. If an insect ingests any part of the plant, it is paralyzed. Sometimes just contacting the plant is enough.

The systemic in this case is a neonicotinoid.

The European Union has restricted the use of neonicotinoids for two years, but their use is legal in this country. Industry officials dispute the role of their pesticides and likely will not stop using them. You can let the owners of the stores know of your displeasure, and you can purchase seedlings from various gardens and garden groups that propagate without pesticides.

Also, check the labels of products that you're buying. Avoid systemics in general, and products that list acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, or thiamethoxam as active ingredients.

Contact Joan Morris at jmorris@bayareanewsgroup.com.