Willet stretching and showing its flashy wing pattern.
Willets are large sandpipers. Like hawks, the female Willets are larger than the males. The Willet is gray in the winter and has dark barring in Spring. Juveniles are brownish with barring. It has a long, straight, dark bill. They can be described as nondescript. BirdWeb calls it "drab." However, two things about the Willet stand out. Its bold black-and-white wing patterns, and its loud call. It often flies away as it calls and people wonder "What kind of bird is that?!" Then it lands and fades into the background again. I really enjoy Willets. They are methodical in their feeding habits and it is fun to watch them in the pickleweed, in the mud, and on the beaches.
They don't just walk on the mud, sand and pickleweed. They wade right in sometimes. Here is a gray Willet in winter plumage up to his wings in water.
Spring Willet checking out the aquatic snails.
Although Willets mainly eat aquatic invertebrates, they sometimes snag a few fish. They sometimes "plough their bills" through the water to catch small fish. They can be seen eating the little aquatic snails that litter the mudflats.
It is not unusual for Willets to hang out with other shore birds or terns and gulls. Willets, Marbled Godwits, American Avocets, and sometimes Black Skimmers can often be seen together at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve and Upper Newport Bay.
Willet in one of its favorite places to forage: Pickleweed.
In addition to the beach, the pickleweed is the favorite place to hang out for Willets.
This little Willet stayed on the footbridge railing for some time, but got skittish when a group started across the bridge. You can also hear the pigeons under the footbridge.
Willets migrate along the California Coast. They also remain here all year. Willets are listed as abundant at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Fall, Winter, and Spring. They drop in summer to common. From what I have read--other than isolated instances, Willets do not breed at Bolsa Chica or in Orange County or California, but many non-breeding individuals stay in Orange County year-round. If you have a resource that says anything different, please let me know.
Willet on the shore at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve
Western Willets breed inland. Their nests are hidden in the grass. The fathers play a prominent role, watching over the chicks until they are independent.
Autumn colors in the pickleweed. A Willet forages at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.
Willet getting into deeper water.
When you are out birding in the wetlands or at the beach, look for the nondescript gray bird with the bold wing pattern. Willets make the wetlands fun with their loud call and sudden flying. Once they start calling and flying, you can't miss them. There is nothing like seeing a group of them take off on a flight from one area to another. The reason is often apparent if you look up in the sky. You may see a Northern Harrier flying above.
OC Birder Girl Links
Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve
San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary
Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve aka Newport Back Bay
A Walk at Bolsa Chica
A Windy Walk at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary
Black-necked Stilt--Himantopus mexicanus
Foraging Spring Willet.
Up close and personal.
External Links and Resources
Detailed page on Willets.
Good shots of Willets in flight.
Great shot of a Willet in flight over Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. It appears to be carrying one of the many snails that live at and feed the birds at the Reserve.
Good article form Seattle Audubon.
Identification of Willets (Tringa semipalmata)by Cin-Ty Lee
Natura-Aviflora's Cin-Ty Lee's terrific article on differentiating Eastern and Western Willets. Since Lee is a Texas birder, he gets to see both these birds and has some good pointers.
Raising a ruckus. He flew soon after.
From the Sora archives. Note that no photo is included in the archived edition.
Nesting of the Western Willet in California
Short 1919 article about isolated nesting of Western Willets in Lassen County, California.
Nice magazine article.
Short, but helpful article.
Detailed study of grasslands and Willets. Good Bibliography.
VOCALIZATIONS AND BEHAVIOR OF THE WILLET
Very detailed examination of the Willet's vocalization.
Short article listed in Sora archive.
Good article from Ocean Wanderers on differentiating the Eastern and Western Willet.
Nice article with good information and photos.
Post from the blog 1,000 birds. By a birder named Charlie Moores. Great shots and great details regarding identification of Willets in flight.
Willet checking out the water.
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