Willet Facts

Willet facts about the North American sandpiper.

The willet (Tringa semipalmata) is a stocky shorebird that can be located along mudflats and shorelines, wading for food. These birds are classified as the largest members of species called shanks which are biologically placed under the genera Tringa, family Scolopacidae, and order Charadriiformes. Willets are scientifically known as Tringa semipalmata. This species of birds are distinctly recognized for the fascinating black and white markings and patterns adorning their anatomy. These long-legged and robust birds are also recognized for their piercing vocals. Willets further includes two subspecies, eastern willets, and western willets.

Here are some interesting willet bird facts for your perusal. If you like this article, check out storks and limpkins.


Fact File

What do they prey on?

Mole crabs, beetles, clams, small fish

What do they eat?


Average litter size?

3-4 eggs

How much do they weigh?

7.0-11.6 oz

How long are they?


How tall are they?

13.0-16.1 in

What do they look like?

Gray or brown long-legged shorebirds with a white rump

Skin Type


What are their main threats?

Climate change, habitat loss, human activities

What is their conservation status?

Least Concern

Where you'll find them

Sandy coastlines, salt marshes, mudflats


North America, West Indies, Central America





Scientific Name

Tringa semipalmata





Willet Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a Willet?

Willets (Tringa semipalmata) are a group of shorebirds that can be commonly traced along the mudflats and water edges. These large and stocky birds were earlier classified under the genera catoptrophorus, family Scolopacidae, order Charadriiformes, and were recognized as catoptrophorus semipalmatus. However, due to close resemblance with members of the genus Tringa, these birds were placed under the shanks species.

What class of animal does a Willet belong to?

Willets are classified under class Aves; that is, the biological classification of organisms characterized by the presence of forelimbs modified into wings, and a body covered with feathers. They are categorized under the family Scolopacidae.

How many Willets are there in the world?

The present population of the willets stands at about 250,000. The given number denotes the population of the species along the terrains of North America. The population of the western willets has declined, moving slowly towards vulnerability. However, it was only by efforts of pacts, such as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918, that the declining rate of these shorebirds was checked and has led to the present numbers being achieved.

Where does a Willet live?

Eastern Willets prefer beaches and salt marshes as breeding grounds, their western relatives are more comfortable along the freshwater prairie marshes, grasslands, and inland habitats. These birds often nest in colonies along the Atlantic Coast.

What is a Willet's habitat?

Willets are widely distributed along the geographical regions of America. These birds favor the topography of North America and the West Indies for their breeding process. However, during the winter season, the Tringa semipalmata can be located in Central America and South America, in addition to southern North America and the West Indies. These birds nest in colonies along the Atlantic Coast

Who do Willets live with?

Winter willets are known to live and migrate in small and loose colonies. However, these birds are also known to exhibit territorial behavior. The males and females form monogamous bonds (bonds to mate and raise the clutch with a single partner) during the breeding seasons.

How long does a Willet live?

The average lifespan of these North American birds is about 10 years.

How do they reproduce?

Eastern willets are a group of monogamous avians (that is, these birds form bonds with a single partner for the breeding seasons and together mate as well raise the clutch). The breeding cycle begins with the counting games near their salt marshes habitat. During courting, to woo the potential mate, the males fly high and flutter their feathers; both the partners further interact by emitting calls and singing to one another, after selecting a potential partner, the male mounts the female for breeding. In willets, prominent calls are produced during copulation. Following fertilization, the partners build a nest together, wherein the male partner locates the male to the ideal spot. Generally, wetlands with abundant foraging grounds are preferred. The female, on average, lays about three or four eggs over six days, which is followed by an incubation period of 25-29 days. Both the partners of species are known to take turns incubating the eggs.

What is their conservation status?

According to the IUCN’s (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List, the Tringa semipalmata species has been categorized under the conservation status of Least Concern.

Willet Fun Facts

What do Willets look like?

Willet bird prefers to feed on small fish, worms, and insects.

Eastern willets are a group of large, stocky, and robust shorebirds. The ventral side of the rump of these birds is white-toned. However, a range in color and pattern is observed over the dorsal anatomy. With a base color of gray or brown, the eastern willets are also known to have streaked, brownish, barred, or darker plumage. These birds are long-limbed with straight pointed bills. The wings of Tringa semipalmata are large with a wingspan of around 27.6 in. The wings of these birds are adorned with black and white patterns, particularly visible during flight. The black shade generally covers the primary wings of willets, adorned with a white band. Their tail is usually grey.

How cute are they?

On a scale of one to five, eastern willets would be ranging around two for their cuteness. With their dull and dark shadings, these birds cannot be categorized as cute. However, though not really cute, the willets are distinctly recognized for their black and white patterns toned with dark shadings.

How do they communicate?

Pill-will-willet is recognized as the distinguishing and piercing calls of the eastern willets. These birds are quite vociferous and emit loud, high-pitched pill will willet calls in order to communicate with members of their species or with their partners.

How big is a Willet?

The average length of the Tringa semipalmata ranges between 13.0-16.1 in.

How fast can a Willet fly?

There are no exact details about the flying speed of winter willets. However, they can fly at a faster pace when they spot potential prey.

How much does a Willet weigh?

The weight of Tringa semipalmata ranges between 7.0-11.6 oz.

What are their male and female names of the species?

There is no specific designation allotted to the members of species Tringa semipalmata based on their sex.

What would you call a baby Willet?

The offspring of the winter willet are referred to as juveniles, nestlings, or fledglings.

What do they eat?

These birds are shoreline and coastline hunters. They probe and peck their prey from mud, substrates, or silt. Their diet includes mole crabs, beetles, clams, small fish, small fiddler crabs, worms, and other small invertebrates. Willets are excellent hunters, thanks to their pointed bills.

Are they dangerous?

Willets are not really dangerous birds. However, these birds fall under the category of nervous birds and prefer to stay off human ranges. They are often subdued but emit loud piercing calls to deter danger. Some members of the species may be quite approachable.

Would they make a good pet?

Willets prefer dwelling in coastal regions and are a migratory species. It is not possible to provide all their living needs and freedom as a pet. Also, they are not really known to enjoy human company. Therefore, these birds do not make for good pets.

Did you know...

In addition to their optical sensory receptors, willets are known to rely largely on the anatomical design of their pointed bills for hunting and foraging. Also, it makes them excellent hunters throughout both the day and night.

Before the major alarm of their declining populations, willets were used as a source of food.

How are Willets affected by climate change?

Since willets are shorebirds and prominent dwellers of the coastal regions the climate changes impacting the sea levels, as well the development of nearshore areas for human utilization, have adversely affected the living conditions of these birds. According to studies, the rise in sea levels can lead to a prominent decrease in the population of willets by as much as 88%.  

When is Willet breeding season?

The breeding season of willets generally stretches from May to July. The preferred breeding grounds for the willets include the terrains of North America and the West Indies, after which they migrate for the winter seasons. The male woos the female with flying and vocal displays. The potential partners are known to mate, and eventually, the female lay about three or four eggs over a duration of six days. The incubation period in willets ranges between 22-29 days.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other birds including the California quail and the harrier hawk.

You can even occupy yourself at home by drawing one of our boho birds coloring pages.



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