- 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
Photo: Paula Selby