Catoptrophorus semipalmatus

A large sandpiper of the interior West and the ocean beaches, the Willet is known by its piercing calls and bright black-and-white flashing wings. It is the only North American sandpiper whose breeding range extends southward into the tropics.

Interesting Information

Willets breeding in the interior of the West differ from the Atlantic Coastal form in ecology, morphology, and subtly in calls. Western Willets breed in freshwater habitats, and are slightly larger and paler gray. Eastern Willets have stouter bills and more barring on their chest and back. The difference in pitch between the calls of the two forms is very difficult for a person to detect, but the birds can hear the difference and respond more strongly to recorded calls of their own form.


Adult Description

  • Size: 33-41 cm (13-16 in)

  • Wingspan: 70 cm (28 in)

  • Weight: 200-330 g (7.06-11.65 ounces)

  • Large shorebird.

  • Bold black-and-white wing pattern seen in flight.

  • Grayish overall.

  • Long straight bill.

  • Long, gray legs.

Sex Differences

Sexes look alike, female slightly larger.


Similar to adult, but more brownish and with light edges to back feathers.


Photo taken from: The Sibley Field Guide by David Allen Sibley

© 2003 Cornell Lab of Ornithology


Preferred habitats include mud banks, tides, coasts and coastal lagoons.


In intertidal habitats in winter, inserts bill to various depths to pick prey. Locates prey visually.


Feeds on mollusks, crustaceans, insects, and small fish; forages by picking food from shallows and probing mud with tip of its bill.



Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
     Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Charadriiformes
Family: Scolopacidae
Genus: Catoptrophorus
Species: Catoptrophorus semipalmatus
    Subspecies: Catoptrophorus semipalmatus inornatus
Catoptrophorus semipalmatus semipalmatus

Similar Species

Yellowlegs are smaller and slimmer, with more slender bills and yellow legs, and lack striking black-and-white wing pattern.

Bird Sound

Call a loud, ringing "pill-will-willet."

Eggs look like this

Photo taken from: ARCTOS Collaborative Collection Management Solution



On the beach