Willet - Tringa semipalmata
The willet is a large shorebird that is a member of the sandpiper family. It is about 13-15 inches in length. It has a grayish-brown head, back, and wings; a white belly; a long, straight black bill; long grayish-blue legs; and black and white bands on its wings that are visible when it is flight. Males and female look alike, but the female is a little larger.
The willet breeds from central Canada to northeastern California and Nevada and along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts south from Nova Scotia. It winters along the Pacific Coast from Oregon south and along the Atlantic Coast from North Carolina southward to northern South America.
The willet forages in mudflats, intertidal areas, and shallow marsh waters. It snatches up food from the surface of the water, or it probes in the mud with its long bill. It often wades up to its belly in the water searching for food. It eats aquatic insects, marine worms, small crabs, small mollusks, and fish. Its diet also includes plant matter like grass and seeds.
The willet often nests in colonies. The female chooses a nesting site in a well-hidden location. She lays four eggs in April or May in a depression in the ground or in a clump of grass that is lined with weeds or pieces of shell. Both parents incubate the eggs for 22-29 days. The chicks are precocial and feed themselves shortly after birth. Both parents care for the chicks. The female leaves when the chicks are 2-3 weeks old. The male stays with the chicks until they fledge when they are about four weeks old.
Willets are very territorial and aggressively defend their nesting and feeding territory. The willet is a very noisy bird and calls out with a "pill-will-willet pill-will-willet" when disturbed. It will fly overhead and and continue calling out until the threat goes away. It often perches on bushes, trees, fenceposts, or rocks.
Audio Credit: xeno-canto.org Andrew Spencer