Thursday, September 22, 2011

Willet stay? Willet go?

Willets are seemingly inconspicuous shorebirds that are easily ignored by the general beach going populace. Chances are if you’ve seen a wedding photo on the beach there is probably a Willet skirting the shoreline behind the bride and groom.

Willets (Tringa semipalmata) are often the bird that some kid on the beach is throwing shells at because the bird ignored the bread thrown at it. (Don’t do it kids, especially if my sister is around. She will throw shells back at you.) Willets have more class than to beg like gulls. Come on kids. They eat tube worms, aquatic insects, mollusks and fish.

To most people a Willet is just a drab-colored shorebird, but when it takes flight it has a striking and very obvious white and black color pattern on the underwing that makes identifying and enjoying a bit easier. The pattern isn’t just for our benefit, a flash of wing helps Willets indentify each other from other shorebird species. The preening Willet in the photo is showing a bit of the black and white in the lower right block.

Willets are monogamous during the breeding season. They split time between the Atlantic coast of South America and the east and west coasts of North America. While they grace our beaches, the males and females tend to nest in the vegetation near the shore. The nest is a well-hidden/conspicuous nest which is to say the nest itself is hidden among the reeds and grasses while a tunnel to the nest is more obvious.

The onomatopoetic name Willet is just one of the various calls the bird makes. It sounds very much like the soothing white-noise “ocean” sounds on my baby’s mobile. Will Will Willet. Will Will Willet.

Males help incubate the eggs and feed the young. Despite their mate fidelity, the females take off two weeks before the chicks fledge, leaving the last of the rearing to the male. I don’t know why this is, but with my own 6 month old at home, the thought of it makes me nervous.

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