WILLET – (Tringa semipalmata)
The Willet is part of the sandpiper family, shorebirds with many similarities. It is fairly large at about 40 cm (15 in.) long, and in breeding plumage it is mottled brown almost all over. The legs are dark grey as opposed to those of the Greater yellowlegs, with which it can be confused. The bill is also dark and straight, and slightly longer than the head. In the winter their plumage is grey. When flying, their wings display large white and black bands.
Willets hunt for small invertebrates in the mud or sand. When alarmed they emit a piercing call. They breed on the ground in a well hidden depression among wetland grasses. If a predator – including a human – gets too close to the nest, this bird will do the ‘broken wing’ (limping with an extended wing dragging on the ground) trick to lure the predator away from the nest.
The willet breeds on PEI and is considered as ‘common’ to ‘fairly common’ except in the winter. This species inhabits salt marshes on the Atlantic coast, and winters further down that coast in South America. Another group breeds on the prairie freshwater marshes in the west part of North America. Willet populations have been impacted by hunting for food in the past century, and more recently by habitat loss, as for most other shorebird species.