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Willet

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.

Appearance:

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.

Habitat:

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

Range:

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

Feeding:

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

Predators:

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

Flight:

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

Voice:

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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