miR-263a/b are members of a conserved family of microRNAs that are expressed in peripheral sense organs across the animal kingdom. Here we present evidence that miR-263a and miR-263b play a role in protecting Drosophila mechanosensory bristles from apoptosis by down-regulating the pro-apoptotic gene head involution defective. Both microRNAs are expressed in the bristle progenitors, and despite a difference in their seed sequence, they share this key common target. In miR-263a and miR-263b deletion mutants, loss of bristles appears to be sporadic, suggesting that the role of the microRNAs may be to ensure robustness of the patterning process by promoting survival of these functionally specified cells. In the context of the retina, this mechanism ensures that the interommatidial bristles are protected during the developmentally programmed wave of cell death that prunes excess cells in order to refine the pattern of the pupal retina.