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COASTAL CRITTER:WILLET (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus)

DESCRIPTION:The Willet is a "pigeon-sized" bird whose wingspan (the distance from tip to tip when outstretched) may reach 12 to 14 inches.  It is a plump bird with a mottled (speckled)    grayish-brown body, long beak and long gray legs and feet.  It is easily recognized in flight by its flashy black and white wing pattern.  Many birdwatchers recognize it by its call of "pill-will-willet" which is also the reason for its name.

HABITAT/ECOLOGY:The Willet winters along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico and as far south as the coast of central South America.  During the winter season in Gulf of Mexico coast areas, the Willet can be observed dashing toward and quickly retreating from the waves.  This maneuver allows the bird to search the rolling waves for a meal of mole crabs,

    coquina clams (Coastal Critter #46) and marine worms.  Its summer nesting grounds are in freshwater and saltwater marshes, lakes and other wetlands in Canada and the northern part of the United States.

CONSERVATION:The biggest threat to Willet populations comes from the water-drainage and filling-in of wetlands in order to meet human demands for the land for homes, businesses and agricultural uses.  Acid rain also causes harm to the wetland nesting habitat of the Willet.  The acid kills the plankton and small fish that are the Willet's primary sources of food.  Consequently, fewer birds mean that fewer eggs are laid and hatched.  This is further compounded because fewer of the chicks survive due to a shortage of food.

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