What’s Black and White and Gray All Over? The Willet

by Larry Jordan on November 12, 2011

Western Willet (Tringa semipalmata) photos by Larry Jordan

(Click on photos for full sized images)

The Willet (Tringa semipalmata) doesn’t look very interesting as it scours the shore, or in this case, the Arcata Marsh mudflats.

Its a rather nondescript wading bird consisting of two subspecies, the Western Willet (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus inornatus) pictured here, and the Eastern Willet (C. s. semipalmatus).

The Western Willet consists of populations breeding in inland, primarily freshwater habitats of western states and provinces while the Eastern Willet populations breed in the marshes of the Atlantic coast, from New Brunswick to Tamaulipas, Mexico1.

I guess I should say Willets are rather nondescript until they fly…

or you hear that distinctive call!

I was able to snap some photos of this Western Willet in flight, showing off those broad white wing-stripes that run across the primaries and secondaries, bordered in black.

No other large shorebird has such a  striking in-flight wing pattern.

And then, when they land…

and they are backlit…

it’s even more striking…

leaving just a glimpse of their secret identity as they fold their wings back up.

To see a Western Willet in breeding plumage, check out my friend Kyle McCreary’s flickr photo here. If you want to see more great bird photos from around the world, check out Bird Photography Weekly!

And while you’re here, if you use Google Friend Connect, please consider joining my website via the widget in the right hand column of my blog and I will join yours in return.  Thanks for the visit!

References: 1Birds of North America Online

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Mick November 13, 2011 at 1:04 am

That’s one shorebird that I don’t know and haven’t seen! The in-flight photos are really great and show the beautiful wing patterns and the call is most distinctive. It’s interesting that the pattern is visible in the last photo before the wings are fully settled down again.


TexWisGirl November 13, 2011 at 6:15 am

very pretty. the wing patterns are beautiful.


Larry November 13, 2011 at 7:26 am

@Mick it looks like you may have to take a trip to the Western Hemisphere!

@Theresa they are so beautiful in flight


NatureFootstep Birds November 13, 2011 at 11:25 am

I totally agree. The backlit flight shots are incredible. So gordgeous. You want to stop it and just enjoy it happening. 🙂 And now I know their call also.


Debbie Miller @HooootOwl November 14, 2011 at 5:31 am

Gorgeous wings in this beautiful light, well done! Incredible photos as always.


Mia McPherson November 15, 2011 at 6:15 am

I love Willets, they may be plain compared to some other birds, but when they open those wings the patterns are wonderful.


Larry November 15, 2011 at 6:53 pm

@NF I love just watching those shorebirds flying in unison

@Debbie thank you very much!

@Mia they are flashy in flight!


phyllis oller November 17, 2011 at 5:45 am

What great pictures of a bird I`ve never seen.The beauty of the water rippling behind is breathtaking,Larry.phyllis


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