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IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Willet Photo

Piercing calls and distinctive wing markings make the otherwise subdued Willet one of our most conspicuous large shorebirds. Whether in mottled brown breeding plumage or gray winter colors, Willets in flight reveal a bold white and black stripe running the length of each wing. These long-legged, straight-billed shorebirds feed along beaches, mudflats, and rocky shores. Willets are common on most of our coastline—learn to recognize them and they’ll make a useful stepping-stone to identifying other shorebirds.


In springtime, the Willet’s signature pill-will-willet call rings out over its breeding territory in the morning and evening, with competing males calling throughout the day. Eastern Willets give a slightly higher-pitched, more rapidly repeated version of the song than Western birds.


  • Calls
  • Courtesy of Macaulay Library
    © Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

When chicks are present, Willets respond to predators with a single-note staccato kleep, and high-pitched alarm calls, and take up sentry posts atop tall trees to warn of threats. They make a kyah-yah call when crossing another’s territory or as a way to maintain contact during migratory flights and when shuttling between foraging and breeding areas. When approached, Willets may react with high-pitched, agitated kip-kip-kip, wiek, and kreeliii alarm calls.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Find This Bird

In winter, Willets are easy to spot feeding along the water’s edge. They’re one of the largest common shorebirds, so even though they’re indistinctly marked, you can learn to quickly recognize their overall chunky shape, subdued plumage, and thick, long bill. To be absolutely sure, look for distinctive black-and-white wing markings when they take flight, and listen for the pill-will-willet call that gives them their name.



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bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

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