The Horror of Hippoboscids

Click on the title if photos don’t appear!

Agghhh! Hippoboscids!

Wildlife rehabilitators do not like hippoboscids, otherwise known as flat flies. Here is a story to illustrate my point.

One afternoon I was struggling to to remove a box containing an injured Barred Owl from my car. “Mom,” called my daughter, Skye, from the doorway. “We have to get my new glasses before the store closes!”

“Just one minute,” I said. “I’ll be right there!”

The owl was a beautiful adult with a fractured humerus. I carried him into the clinic, gave him fluids and wrapped his wing, and was just about to close the crate door when a hippoboscid whipped out from under his feathers, buzzed around my head, and disappeared.

As I mentioned, we do not like hippoboscids. They hide in the plumage of birds – especially sick or injured ones – and suck their blood. When the saintly rehabber attempts to give the bird a thorough physical, the nasty little parasites fly off the bird and sometimes slip beneath the rehabber’s clothing. Hence, the animosity.

I had to be at the store in 40 minutes, so there was no time to find out exactly where it went. I raced into the house, called for Skye, grabbed my keys, and, as I was crossing the kitchen, felt a buzzing on the back of my neck.

I shot into the air and came down twirling like a ballerina, desperately trying to pound myself on the back in the vain hope of squishing it. I rushed to the refrigerator and rubbed against it, like a horse against a fence post. Skye appeared and regarded me steadily.

“What are you doing?” she asked, deadpan.

“Nothing!” I said brightly. “Just an itch.”

We climbed into the car. Where was the damned thing? I thought desperately. Glommed onto the back of my head? Crawling down my spine? Maybe it flew off me, I reasoned, then felt something move.

“Arrggghhh!” I cried.

“What? What?” said Skye. “What is it?”

I continue to cling to the sad, pathetic hope that someday my daughter will think I’m cool, maybe even kind of hip, even though I’m always wearing rubber boots, ratty jeans, and ranting about clearcutting and oil spills. I realized there, in the car, that my hope would be forever dashed should she discover that I was driving her to the mall with a flat fly crawling around under my clothing.

“It’s nothing!” I said. “I just got an electric shock!”

“But you weren’t touching anything but the steering wheel!” she retorted. Heaving a great sigh, she plugged in her Ipod and stared out the window.

There was little I could do except drive, and the radio offered nothing but the worst of the 70’s metal bands. Left to my own devices, I began to wonder about the personal life of the flat fly who was accompanying me to the mall. I envisioned him as the tiny leader of a brave band of freedom fighters, all seeking to overthrow a repressive and brutal military junta. He had just hijacked a cargo plane filled with supplies.

That would be me.

Should I name the hijacker? I wondered.

Yes. I will call him Fernando.

We arrived at the mall. A woman approached me with a big smile and a bottle of perfume. I smiled back. I wondered what she would do if Fernando suddenly emerged from my sleeve and disappeared down the front of her shirt.

“Mom!” said Skye. “Come on – we’re late!”

I heard nothing from Fernando throughout the eyeglasses pickup, nor during the drive home. I began to suspect he was napping, saving his strength for the coup. Although I was becoming quite fond of him, the second we arrived home I headed for the bathroom.

I took an energetic shower. “Fernando!” I called in a cheerful falsetto. “Where are you?” Nothing. This called for a different tactic. I eyed the pile of clothing in the corner. “Fernando Emilio Urquizo y Lagachas!” I shouted. “I am prepared to offer you a cease fire, as well as a powerful position in my new government!”

“Mom!” called Skye’s voice sharply. “Is someone in there with you?”


About suziegilbert

I live in New York’s beautiful Hudson Valley and have been rehabbing birds for over twenty years. I’ve written a memoir about the slippery slope all rehabbers eventually slide down, called “Flyaway: How a Wild Bird Rehabber Sought Adventure and Found Her Wings,” published in 2009 by HarperCollins; and a children's book called "Hawk Hill," published in 1996 by Chronicle Books. I also write all kinds of freelance content. Please see my website,
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11 Responses to The Horror of Hippoboscids

  1. jodi says:

    AHHHHH!!!! I KNOW!!!!! I HATE THOSE THINGS!!!!! first time i saw them they came to my house with a baby pigeon, thankfully i for once had the sense to look in the box to check the babe before he came into the house and out they flew!! onto me and my daughter maizi
    we freaked out swatted at the flies and it was like they were on a stretched rubber band attached to us, they just came right back so fast!!
    i love you bird lice n mite spray, you are my real friend

  2. LOL…I hate to tell you this Susie..but nothing you do will make you cool to your daughter.. when she finally comes around she will be not regard you as cool, but she will have accepted you as you all Moms are…not really cool…When my daughter was 21 and in collage, she sent us an e-mail that I have to this day… “Mom and Dad, I want to let you know that many of the things you said were right and I can see that now.”…Just live long enough to get the e-mail…Michelle

    • Oh good grief..I meant college..this voice recognition software only goes so far…

    • suziegilbert says:

      Collage/college, not bad compared to some of the ones I’ve read – you have to google “autocorrect” and there’s a site with mistakes – it’s hysterical… so Michelle, send me those vibes that will help me live long enough to get the kind of email your daughter sent you!

  3. jodi says:

    btw, i think my daughter secretly thinks i’m cool, just won’t admit it

  4. Lisa says:

    Love it!! Hate the flies though! I have misted myself with the mite and lice spray. Joe and i call them flying ticks.

  5. Jerry Carter says:

    Thank you – a Coopers Hawk electrocuted himself at our house last night and as I was investigating and contacting ODNR, I noticed these guys and freaked. Glad to have them ID’d.

    • suziegilbert says:

      Oh no – I’m assuming he didn’t make it. Poor guy. If he had flat flies, he may have already been compromised, which might have led to him hitting the wire. Sigh!

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