Tringa semipalmata
A Willet specimen on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

An extremely large (14-17 inches) sandpiper, the Willet in summer is most easily identified by its mottled gray back and wings, streaked breast, black-and-white wings, and dull bluish legs. In winter, this species becomes slightly duller-plumaged overall. This species may be separated from the related Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca) by that species’ smaller size. Male and female Willets are similar to one another in all seasons. The Willet breeds in a few widely-separated regions in the New World, including the northern Great Plains and interior west, the Atlantic coast of North America, the U.S. Gulf coast, and the West Indies. In winter, northern and interior populations migrate south to the Pacific coast from California south to Chile, the southeastern U.S., and the Caribbean coasts of Central and South America. More southerly populations, particularly those in the West Indies, are non-migratory. Willets breeding in the interior of North America primarily breed on wet grasslands, while those breeding along the coast primarily breed in coastal saltwater marshes. In winter and on migration, this species may be found in a number of wetland habitats, including freshwater or saltwater marshes, mudflats, and estuaries. Willets mainly eat invertebrates, including insects, aquatic worms, and mollusks, and will sometimes also eat small fish. In appropriate habitat, Willets may be seen probing the mud for food with its bill while walking on mudflats or wading in shallow water. Individuals may also be seen flying over grasses or open water, when this species’ heavily-patterned wings are easily observed. Willets are primarily active during the day.

Threat Status: Least Concern