[order] Charadriiformes | [family] Scolopacidae | [latin] Catoptrophorus semipalmatus | [UK] Willet | [FR] Chevalier semipalmé | [DE] Schlammtreter | [ES] Playero Aliblanco | [IT] Totano semipalmato | [NL] Willet

Willet determination

copyright: J. del Hoyo

The Willet is a large, chunky shorebird with drab plumage. It is similar in height to a Greater Yellowlegs, but heavier and with a shorter neck. Its bill is long and fairly thick for a shorebird, and its legs are grey. It is mottled grey all over, with heavier barring in breeding plumage than in winter. The rump is white, and most of the tail is barred grey. The wing-linings are dark, resulting in a bold black-and-white wing pattern.

Willets in the eastern United States breed in coastal salt marshes, but the Midwestern population breeds in lakes and ponds, shallow marshes, wet meadows, and native grasslands. During migration and in winter, Willets are found near the ocean shore, in salt marshes, mudflats, sandy beaches, rocky areas, or wet meadows.

Two subspecies (which may well be different species have very different breeding habitats and ranges. The Eastern Willet breeds in coastal saltmarshes from Nova Scotia to Mexico and the Caribbean. It winters on the Atlantic coast of South America. The Western Willet breeds in freshwater prairie marshes in western North America. It winters on both coasts, from the mid-Atlantic states south to at least Brazil on the Atlantic, and from Oregon south to Peru on the Pacific. In Suriname the Willet is confined to the coast as a numerous migrant.

The Willet forages by walking on the shore, in a marsh or in open water. It will pick food from the water, but spends more time probing the mud with its bill in search of food. Inland Willets eat many aquatic insects and other invertebrates. In coastal areas, crabs, mollusks, and small fish are also part of the diet.

This species has a large range, with an estimated global Extent of Occurrence of 1,900,000 km². It has a large global population estimated to be 250,000 individuals (Wetlands International 2002). Global population trends have not been quantified, but the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e. declining more than 30% in ten years or three generations). For these reasons, the species is evaluated as Least Concern. [conservation status from birdlife.org]

Willets often nest in colonies, especially along the Atlantic Coast. The nest is usually near water, but can be several hundred yards away. The nest is located on the ground, usually in dense grass. The grass is bent over to form the nest foundation, and then lined with finer grass. Both parents help incubate the 4 eggs for 22 to 29 days. The young leave the nest within a day of hatching and find their own food. Both parents defend and tend the young, but the female leaves after 2 to 3 weeks. The male remains with the young until they are independent at about 4 weeks.

Race inornatus strongly migratory, but nominate fairly sedentary around Gulf of Mexico and in Caribbean. Race inornatus moves in three main directions: almost due E to Atlantic coast of New York and New England; SE & S to Atlantic and Gulf of coasts, with some moving into Caribbean and reaching Surinam; fairly small numbers migrate SW to Pacific coast, from Oregon to N Peru, scarcely S to N Chile; regular migrant to Galapagos in small numbers. Nominate race moves S down Atlantic coast into Caribbean and to N South America, where occurs mainly in NC Brazil and Surinam.