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Pagosa Springs
Monday, June 5, 2023

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.

The opportunity to see shorebirds in our area is happening now, but won’t last long. During spring migration, wetland areas that provide places to rest and feed during long migratory flights are vital to the survival of these birds.

The willet is a large, stocky sandpiper with long legs and a thick, straight bill. It is a relatively plain shorebird until it spreads its wings to reveal a striking black-and-white striped wing pattern. In breeding plumage, it is mottled gray, brown and black on its back.

Two subspecies, the eastern and western, exist. Both spend winters on beaches, mudflats, marshes or rocky shorelines along the coasts, where they eat crabs, worms and clams. The western type breeds far inland near marshes, wetlands, prairie pothole ponds and wet agricultural fields. Here, they feed day and night on aquatic insects, small fish and spiders, using their long bills to take prey from the surface or in the mud.

Willets do not spend much time on their breeding grounds, with some departing as early as June. Both parents incubate eggs and care for the young. Typically, the female leaves from two to three weeks ahead of the male and he stays to finish raising the chicks.

The conversion of grassland areas to agricultural uses has meant a decrease in the breeding habitat for these birds. Purchases of Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps, also known as Duck Stamps, support National Wildlife Refuges. Ninety-eight percent of the $25 stamp price goes directly to land conservation.

For information on events, visit www.weminucheaudubon.org and www.facebook.com/weminucheaudubon/.

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