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Humming birds in the garden


Humming-bird Hawk-moth (Alex Cruickshank)
Humming-bird Hawk-moth (Alex Cruickshank)

On a warm summer afternoon a small, darting object hovers briefly next to the valerian and lavender flowers in our front garden before flitting to the next and hovering again. The impression is of an orange blur surrounding a fat furry body, humming softly as it flies. Watching for a few moments makes it clear that this animal is poking its long tongue into the tiny flowers.

This is a special visitor to our garden. It has flown from southern Europe to sup on nectar, it will breed and lay eggs but most perish each year in our cold winters.

Reports of humming birds in our parks and gardens are understandable but they always turn out to be Humming-bird Hawk-moths.

Like many of the 2400 or so species of moth recorded in the UK, the Humming-bird Hawk-moth caterpillar is fussy about what it eats. This one feeds just on bedstraw, a delicate relative of cleavers (or sticky willy as the boys call it) and many of our native plants have species of moth that are entirely dependant on them. The caterpillar of the UK’s commonest hawk-moth – the Poplar Hawk-moth – eats the leaves of poplar trees, and not a lot else. If we want to conserve our surprisingly beautiful moths, then we have to make sure that the variety of wild plants on which they depend are allowed to thrive.

Sightings of the Humming-bird Hawk-moth are recorded by Butterfly Conservation. If you see one this summer, why not visit their website to log your observation?

Records like this are invaluable in showing the state of our countryside and prove a useful tool when studying the effects of climate change.

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