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Call of the Willet!
A shorebird with an interesting call
Have you ever heard the call of the willet? A willet is a very common shorebird that can often be seen all over the United States and parts of Mexico. Usually, however, they live on the coast. In my area, they only visit here in the winter, but they often arrive early, sometimes in late summer. On the east coast of the United States and along the Gulf coast, they are more likely to be year-round residents. But, they can sometimes be seen in the interior west in states like Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and the Dakotas during the summer, too. They can be pretty much found on migration everywhere around the western United States as well.
Like killdeer, they fake broken wings to distract predators from their chicks. Their breeding behavior is also similar to killdeer in that they are mostly social only during the non-breeding season, otherwise, they live in pairs in a breeding territory. They nest on the ground and both parents incubate and care for the chicks.
You can find some more general information about willets here.
Willets make a very interesting sound. It's a squeaky sound, mostly. But, when they fly or are in courtship, it sounds like they're saying "pull-willet! pull-willet!". Listen to their most common song posted on Laura Erickson's site: (where you can see lots of willet photos and there are links to two other calls) here (You can also hear a Wilson's snipe in the background).
All photos in this lens were taken by me unless otherwise noted (such as Allposters photos).
Willets can often be mistaken for a variety of other shorebirds. They are very similar-looking to the much less common wandering tattler, especially in their gray winter plumage. But, tattlers have a more striped breast and are almost entirely solitary. Sometimes, they're mistaken for their close cousins, marbled godwits and the lesser and greater yellowlegs.
A man disturbed these willets and they were moving out of his way. Willets are often very tolerant of people, but they aren't stupid and won't let you get too close to them.
Willet and Marbled Godwit
Willets often associate with other large sandpipers such as themselves. They are frequently seen with marbled godwits. These two (willet in front, godwit in back), however, are very close companions and travel together everywhere. They treat each other as mates, which is unusual.
Western willets and godwits spend their summers in different places. The godwits travel to Alaska and the western willets to the interior west to places such as Idaho and Montana. However, the summer after this photo was taken, a willet was spotted in Alaska, which is very rare. Could the willet seen in Alaska be the one in this photo?
Willets are often curious and like to check things out, especially if they think there's going to be food involved. They like to eat crustaceans, insects and small fish. One thing I notice is that willets seem to like to watch human beings as much as humans like to watch them, too. I've also heard stories of willets eating bread handouts, but are picky about the type of bread they will eat.
Willet and shorebird stuff for the willet and shorebird fanatic. Some of the items are just for the enjoyment of willets, some are to help you better identify shorebirds in general.
Makes the great willet sound! I love these stuffed birds as I have two of them myself. Be aware, though, these are not machine washable.
One of the best guides for shorebirds around. This book talks about shorebirds in detail and has a lot of great photos.
About their enemies
Willets are considered prey animals. Their biggest predator is the peregrine falcon who regularly hunts them. Check out this awesome photo of a peregrine falcon carrying a live willet in its talons.
When a predator flies over, the willets make a short, sharp series of calls until some time after the predator disappears.
Other predators include other hawks and falcons. Land predators tend to be a threat mostly to their young.
Willet Photos! - Here are some willet photos I've taken (mostly western willets). Stay tuned, more will be added.Click thumbnail to view full-size
These willets may have been traveling from the breeding areas to the northeast of me to the coast. They showed up at Lake Murray one fall. Note the greenish legs of the juvenile willet. Young willets often fly "off course" on their first flight south from the breeding grounds.
He's making the special call!
I think this is a great photo because you rarely get a photo of them in this posture. He seems to be really go all at it with his call. Also, this is a good example of a western willet.
More willet information
Here are some links to more information. More to be added soon.
- Willet--Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Information on willets, breeding, migration, and more photos. This is the go-to link for the best identification of this or any other birds.
- Willet - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Wikipedia's take on the willet which includes more links to other sources.
- Willet: Bird of the Month - Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center - National Zoo| FONZ
Learn things about the Willet that you won't find in the standard field guide.
- Willet - Catoptrophorus semipalmatus - NatureWorks
The willet is a large shorebird that is a member of the sandpiper family. It is about 13-15 inches in length. It has grayish-brown head, back and wings; a white belly; a long, straight black bill; long grayish-blue legs and black and white bands on i
In breeding plumage
I believe this is an eastern willet in breeding plumage. Eastern willets were once hunted almost into extinction in the mid to late 1800s like many other birds, but have since recovered. Unlike western willets, breeding eastern willets are more likely to be seen in more populated areas.