I’ve long wondered where birds go and what they do in the rain. I got part of the answer this afternoon when I happened to step close to the edge along the eastern shore of the park and looked down at the rocks. No fewer than eighteen Willets lined up there, all of them with their beaks tucked under their right wing feathers, except for one at each end who appeared to be keeping watch.
I was charmed by two of the birds who kept each other cozy. Each bird stood on just one leg and one bird leaned on the back of the other (pic below).
As my silhouette loomed over the embankment, several of the birds opened an eye (pic below), but without otherwise moving their bodies. I gently withdrew; I hate it when my nap is interrupted. Let sleeping birds lie.
The Cornell bird lab website has these Cool Facts about Willets:
Willets breeding in the interior of the West differ from the Atlantic Coastal form in ecology, shape, and subtly in calls. Western Willets breed in freshwater habitats, and are slightly larger and paler gray. Eastern Willets have stouter bills and more barring on their chest and back. The difference in pitch between the calls of the two subspecies is very difficult for a person to detect, but the birds can hear the difference and respond more strongly to recorded calls of their own type.
Although both parents incubate the eggs, only the male Willet spends the night on the nest.
Willets and other shorebirds were once a popular food. In his famous Birds of America accounts, John James Audubon wrote that Willet eggs were tasty and the young “grow rapidly, become fat and juicy, and by the time they are able to fly, afford excellent food.” By the early 1900s, Willets had almost vanished north of Virginia. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 banned market hunting and marked the start of the Willet’s comeback.
Like Killdeer, Willets will pretend to be disabled by a broken wing in order to draw attention to themselves and lure predators away from their eggs or chicks.
Because they find prey using the sensitive tips of their bills, and not just eyesight, Willets can feed both during the day and at night.
The oldest known Willet in North America was a female and banded in Oregon. She was at least 10 years, 3 months old when she was found in California.