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Tringa semipalmata

Willets can be identified in flight by their prominent, distinctive white wing stripe. (Jerry Kirkhart/Flickr)
Willets can be identified in flight by their prominent, distinctive white wing stripe. (Jerry Kirkhart/Flickr)

The willet is a large, grayish-brown sandpiper with a distinctive black and white wing pattern. It lives in the Chesapeake Bay’s salt marshes and on tidal flats from spring through autumn.


Willets grow to around 17 inches in length. They have mottled grayish-brown plumage, a brown belly and a large white wing stripe that is bordered by black. They have a long, straight bill and bluish-gray legs.


Lives in salt marshes and along tidal flats, and can often be seen bobbing on the water’s surface close to the shoreline.


Visits the Chesapeake Bay from spring through autumn. Particularly common along the Bay’s eastern shoreline. They move to the Atlantic coast in winter.


Willets eat small fish and invertebrates such as worms, insects, mollusks, amphipods and fiddler crabs.


Predators of adult willets include hawks, herring gulls, snakes and otters. Crows, ravens, snakes, foxes and raccoons all prey upon willet eggs and young.


In flight, willets can be identified by their prominent, distinctive black and white wing pattern.


The call of the willet is a noisy pill-will-willet.

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

From mid-May to late July, willets nest in the lower Eastern Shore’s tidal marshes. Females lay an average of four olive-colored eggs into a grass-covered depression in the ground. About 2 to 3 weeks after the chicks hatch, the female abandons the nest. The male remains for about two more weeks to care for them. Willets can live for 10 years.

Other Facts:

  • Willets tend to be nervous, often sounding an alarm call at the first sign of danger.
  • Both males and females will incubate the eggs, but only the male willet will spend the night on the nest.
  • Like killdeer, willets will pretend to be injured with a broken wing to draw predators away from their nest.

Sources and Additional Information:

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