Tringa semipalmata

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A common shore bird, Willets are often spotted darting about coastal areas, plucking food from the ground and quickly scampering off. Its long curved billed is designed for reaching between rocks and vegetation to snap up insects or pull prey from the mud and sand. The bird is normally solitary and can forage both during the day and at night. Favorite prey include crabs and mollusks.

Willets can be identified by their large, round bodies which are typically a mottled brown during the spring and summer, turning flat grey during the winter months. There is a distinctive black and white stripe running beneath each wing which is only visible when the bird is in flight. The legs are long and they are swift runners, able to navigate both beaches and rocky shores.

They will breed in coastal saltmarshes, on beaches and islands. Sometimes their breeding grounds are more inland and near freshwater sources. Nests are placed on the ground and typically up to four eggs are produced during a season. It takes about a month for the eggs to incubate and chicks are able to feed themselves within a day of hatching.

Range and Habitat

Willets have a wide range and are a common sight on both the western and eastern coasts of North America. They are more commonly seen in these areas during the winter months when they are foraging for insects and invertebrates along the rocky shore at the edges of mudflats.

Conservation Status

Common. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the eating of Willet eggs was very fashionable, causing a massive decline in the bird’s population. When migratory birds received legal protection in the United States in 1916, the collection of eggs ceased and the bird’s numbers rebounded. Today its numbers are healthy throughout its range.