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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

Willet -- Catoptrophorus semipalmatus

RANGE: Breeds locally from eastern Oregon, central Alberta, and southwestern Manitoba, south to northeastern and east-central California, across to western and northern Nebraska and eastern South Dakota; locally along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts from Prince Edward Island south to southern Florida and west to southern Texas. Occurs sporadically (nonbreeding birds) in summer as far south as northern South America. Winters along the Pacific and Atlantic Coasts from northern California and Virginia south to South America.

STATUS: Common.

HABITAT: Inhabits tidal and coastal marshes, beaches, sandy islands with tall and thick grasses, open pastures, dry uplands near water, and along dunes in the East. Prefers inland prairies and plains, alkali flats, and grassy dikes, usually near water in the West. Associates freely with godwits, curlews, large plovers, and some shorebirds. Often perches on bushes, trees, fences, posts, rocks, and buildings.

SPECIAL HABITAT REQUIREMENTS: Moist plains and prairies in western North America, coastal marshes and nearby grassy areas in the East.

NEST: Nests semi-colonially in depressions on the ground or in a thick clump of vegetation, sometimes far from water in the West. Locates nest in open areas on a sandy beach to well hidden in low grasses.

FOOD: Forages by probing or by snatching food from the ground on tidal flats, in salt or brackish marshes, water-soaked pastures, along muddy creek banks, and on saline flats. Eats fiddler crabs, mollusks, marine worms, small fishes, adult insects, and some seeds, leaves, and roots of grasses.

REFERENCES: Bent 1927, Low and Mansell 1983, Palmer 1967, Stenzel et al. 1976, Terres 1980, Wilds in Farrand 1983a.

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