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.
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 two to three 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.
Did You Know?
- 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
- Life in the Chesapeake Bay by Alice Jane Lippson and Robert L. Lippson
- Chesapeake Bay: Nature of the Estuary, A Field Guide by Christopher P. White
- Animal Diversity Web: Catoptrophorus semipalmatus – University of Michigan Museum of Zoology
- All About Birds: Willet – The Cornell Lab of Ornithology
- NatureWorks: Willet – New Hampshire Public Television