Tag Archives: beak

A sinister-looking fly

A number of people have asked me about a sinister-looking fly with a big pointy beak on its head, which they have been seeing around their gardens lately. Many people are wondering if these are the horse-flies I was alluding to in an earlier instalment. You’ll be glad to know you are perfectly safe, as this is actually Rhyngia campestris, known to its friends as the Beaked Hover Fly. The photos below are very close up, so the insect looks much bigger than it appears in real life, but imagine it to be roughly the size of the more troublesome House Fly.

The Beaked Hover Fly. Here you can see it has a lower 'jaw' which opens beneath the beak to release a very long proboscis which it uses to feed on nectar.
The Beaked Hover Fly feeding on viola nectar. Here you can see it has a lower ‘jaw’ which opens beneath the beak to release a very long proboscis which it uses to feed on nectar.

Beaked Hover Flies are especially fond of violets, violas and pansies, and their extremely long probosces seem to have evolved to feed on these kinds of flowers. But they like Russian Comfrey and Wild Mustard too.

When seen from above the extraorinary length of the proboscis is easy to see. In this case feeding on a viola.
When seen from above the extraorinary length of the proboscis is easy to recognise. In this case the fly is feeding on a viola.

Anyhow, there is absolutely nothing to fear from this harmless nectar-feeder. It’s a vitally important pollinator of our plants, and our very lives depend on the existence of these creatures and their relatives. It may not be particularly colourful (it looks like beautiful amber to me), but it does have a lovely beak.

 

One to watch out for – the Treecreeper

This is an excellent time of year to spot Treecreepers. The Treecreeper is a bird about the size of a sparrow, with excellently camouflaged brown feathers with a bright white belly, that makes it look like a broken piece of timber. This is a good look to have, as the Treecreeper, like its name suggests, lands on the bottom trunks of trees and crawls slowly up the bark looking for tiny insects hiding in little gaps and recesses in the bark. In order to get these little creatures it has an incredible beak, which is shaped like a curved tweezers, or needle-nose pliers. This is a common and widespread bird in Wicklow, but one of the least seen, and probably the least photographed because it moves unnoticed in the shade of trees. The photo below was taken by me two days ago, but it’s not great due to the low light. But you can perfectly see the strange beak of this remarkable, little known bird.

Treecreeper - Certhia familiaris - doing what it does best. Look out for these birds on tree trunks throughout Wicklow. Hard to spot, and hard to notice too, even when you're looking at them.