SEPTEMBER 1, 2014 -
Every summer when we'd return to the beach in South Carolina for
our vacation, I'd get excited that I may have found a life bird.
He was a relatively large (14-15 inches tall), stocky
long-legged wader with a nondescript gray toned back, long bill
and grayish legs. He was too big to be a Yellowlegs -- and
he didn't have yellow legs. He/she would walk calmly along
the surf teasing me that I couldn't remember his name.
Then something or someone would give him a fright and he'd take
off. As soon as I saw the beautiful black and white wing
pattern, I'd remember that he is a Willet.
those years ago, I didn't realize there were Eastern and Western
races of the Willet. It was difficult enough for me to
remember the name of the plain-Jane bird, let alone remember
that the eastern birds are strictly coastal all year.
Western Willets breed inland and migrate to both coasts.
Western birds are roughly 10% larger than Eastern birds with
longer bills and legs. The Western bird has a slightly
more slender bill which may also be slightly upturned. The
wingtips may protrude beyond the tail. Overall, the
Western Willet is a paler bird.
Most Florida Willets breed along our coasts
from April through mid-June. Willets seen in the winter on
our coast may be from the Western race that breeds on the
prairies of the northern US and southern Canada. They nest
in grassy dunes and salt marsh. The forage at the edge of
the tidal wash for coquina clams and mole crabs.1
Our thanks to John Roessler for
sharing this photo of three Willets who appear to be practicing
a choreographed dance. John took this photo at Ft. DeSoto
1 "Florida's Living Beaches, A
Guide for the Curious Beachcomber" Blair & Dawn Witherington
(Pineapple Press, Sarasota, FL 2010)