Breeding adult: large, stocky shorebird with mottled brown feathers, long light brown legs, and a thick straight bill that is beige to black in coloration. Large black/dark-brown and white stripes on spread wings, with brown mottling on back and lighter mottling on belly.
Non-breeding adult: pale grayish brown overall with few markings and no mottling. Light buff to white bellies.\
Juvenile: white underbellies, light brown back and wings, with larger mottling pattern than adults. Brown heads. Juveniles in East are browner and smaller than juveniles in West.
From Canada to Venezuela; two populations in North America.
Breeding: breeding occurs in the Great Plains for Western willets, and on northeastern shores in April-May for Eastern willets.
Migrating: migrate through the central United States and Baja California. Migrate at night. Western birds leave coastal wintering grounds in March-May, and Eastern birds move North starting in March.
Non-breeding: Along coast of California and Mexico in winter.
Non-migrating: year-round in Gulf Coast, southeastern US Coast, and Caribbean.
Feed along beaches, mudflats, saltwater marshes, and rocky shores.
Western willets breed in freshwater compared to Eastern willets.
A pair searches for nest sites together, often with the male making trial scrapes in the ground for the female to evaluate.
The male makes the scrape in the ground and the female then fills it in with fine grasses and pebbles.
The mother lays 4 eggs between 1.9 and 2.4 inches long. The eggs are greenish or brownish with bold, irregular dark brown spots on them.
Although both parents incubate the eggs, only the males watch the eggs at night.
The female leaves the nest almost two weeks before the male, leaving him to finish raising the chicks.
The chicks are born mobile, covered in down, with eyes open. They are able to peck at vegetation immediately after hatching.
Aquatic beetles, spiders, fish.
Small crabs, worms, clams, snails, and invertebrates.
Eastern willets eat fiddler and mole crabs.
Hawks, herring gulls, snakes, and otters prey on adult willets.
Crows, ravens, snakes, foxes, and raccoons prey on willet eggs and chicks.
The name willet comes from the “pill-will-willet” sound of their call.
Like Killdeer, willets will pretend to have a broken wing to lure predators away from their nest to protect their eggs and nest..
Hear a Willet’s alarm call
Hear a Willet’s song
Sources: AllAboutBirds.org; BirdsoftheWorld.org; Chesapeake Bay Program; Audubon Field Guide