Bird of the Week


Photo courtesy Charles Martinez

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the willet.

For some birds, long-distance migration is a dangerous but necessary journey to reach suitable habitat for raising young. Breeding grounds with rich, abundant food sources and safety from predators help ensure that vulnerable chicks will reach adulthood.

One migrant that stops briefly in Pagosa Springs is a large sandpiper called the willet. The western group of willets, which winters on the coast from Oregon south into Mexico, travels far inland to the northern plains of the U.S. and into Canada to raise their young.

The willet is a long- legged, chunky shorebird with a long, thick, black bill.

Willets use their long, sensitive bill to take prey from the water’s surface or in the mud.

Both sexes have lightly mottled gray-brown plumage and light throat and belly. Unlike many birds, the willet is perhaps most easily identified in flight, when it displays a distinctive bold black and white stripe along the length of each wing.

Willets were once a popular food and had almost vanished from the northern U.S. by 1900. Protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 marked the start of the comeback for this and many other bird species. This bird has been seen here at the end of April and in early May on the shores of Pinon Lake, Echo Reservoir and Lake Capote.