110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
By Lynn Bowen
posted Jan 27, 2013 - 7:59:16am
Willets are shorebirds often seen scampering on beaches along the Atlantic Ocean. On average, they are 15 inches tall, have a 26-inch wingspan, and weigh just 8 ounces. These medium-gray-plumed birds with light-gray undersides have long gray legs and long dark bills. Their most beautiful feature is their wing pattern, which can be seen only when they fly. Near their bodies, their wings are gray; then a broad white wing stripe and black color frame the outside of the rounded wing.
Willets are usually loners, but I call the pair in the photo accompanying this column Mr. and Mrs. Willet, because, during the half-hour when I watched them, they would fly a few feet, then dart and sprint together. They would stop suddenly to seize and eat something small buried in the wet sand.
These were the only willets in sight, but gulls, sandpipers and ruddy turnstones were also enjoying the beach. Brown pelicans soared overhead on the breezes.
Using their long bills to probe the shore, the willets found lots of food. Their diet consists of small marine life, crabs, worms, grasshoppers, crickets and other insects.
The two species of willets are the Western and the Eastern. The Westerners are a little larger than the Easterners, have a slightly different call, and are paler than the Easterners. The Eastern willets are strictly coastal all year in the U.S., whereas the Western ones breed inland and migrate to both coasts. Most of them migrate from southern Canada and the U.S. to Central and South America. Their favorite wintering location is in Brazil among the mangrove forests. However, many Eastern willets stay in Florida permanently. (The Westerns seldom visit here.)
Willets are ground-nesting birds that lay eggs in salt marshes. They have to be on guard constantly, since these areas are home to their main predators: raccoons and crows.
One amazing fact about willets is that they can fly up to 57 mph! These are strong athletes!
Willets "say" their name, preceding the "willet" with "pilly-will."
— Bowen lives in DeLand. Send email to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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