Willet (or won’t it)

As colder weather begins to descend upon Calgary, it can be nice to reflect a little bit on some birds that we were familiar with during the summer months.

Many species of birds vary greatly from region to region. The Willet is one of these birds that are highly variable with two distinct subspecies, the eastern semipalmata darker, browner and thicker-billed than the western subspecies inornata that we see both in Calgary, and down here on the Gulf Coast.

A western inornata Willet

A large shorebird with a flashy black-and-white wing pattern seen in flight,  the willet was given its name thanks to its territorial call: pill-will-willet. A very vocal bird, the Willet, as biologist William Vogt wrote many years ago, has another call, a ringing kaaaty. When William Vogt studied a breeding pair of Willets back in 1938  he couldn’t help but call them Will and Kate, thanks to their calls.

Another western Willet

Several years ago, before I was a big birder, I traveled out east for vacation. I observed my first Willet out there and now I have the chance to compare photographs of eastern and western Willets.

While the shots of the Western Willets are winter plumaged birds, you can still see the smaller size, darker color and stouter bill in the eastern Willet pictured above.

I always find regional variations in birds intriguing and the Willet is a bird with an easily visible difference, making it a good subject to view and compare from the east to the west.

Posted by Matthew Sim

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