Western Willet vs. Eastern Willet

While birding Sandy Pt on Saturday afternoon, a juvenile Western Willet was present among five or so juvenile Eastern Willets (the local adult Easterns seem to have departed). I was able to grab a few decent images of both subspecies. Separation of Western (inornatus) from Eastern (semipalmatus) Willet is something that is being attempted more and more lately, and it is very doable especially when both subspecies are present side-by-side. Someday these two subspecies may be split into full species, so it would be outstanding to get a head start on identifying every Willet we see.

Western Willet:
- longer-legged, larger size, and more lanky overall
- longer, thinner bill (especially the tip)
- paler than Eastern; juveniles appear grayish
- less contrast between scapulars and wing coverts than Eastern (does not apply to adults)

Note the long legs, size much larger than the adjacent Greater Yellowlegs, bill shape, grayish coloration, and the degree of contrast between the scaps and coverts.

A different angle of the bill

That is one big, lanky, pale willet.

Eastern Willet:
- more compact shape, averages smaller size
- thicker bill
- darker than Western; juveniles appear brownish-gray
- more noticeable contrast between darker scapulars and paler wing coverts (does not apply to adults)

This photo shows the darker/browner coloration, shorter stature (but tough to see with all that vegetation), and thicker bill.

Here you can get a feel for the bird's smaller size as compared to a Greater Yellowlegs; it is just a bit larger than the GRYE. You can also appreciate the greater contrast between scaps and coverts.

A different angle of the bill, and another view of the darker scapulars and how they contrast more with the paler wing coverts.

If I can get more/better images of these willets in the coming days, I will update this post.

Good shorebirding,


  1. Where is the best place on the web for me to send some pics to confirm a Western Willet in New Orleans on 9/16/12? Becky

  2. If you'd like you can email photos to me. Click on my profile in the right column, then click on "Email" in the left column.

  3. Did my e-mail go through to your e-mail with the Willet pics? Bec


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