Eastern and western Willets in breeding plumage

Eastern Willet in breeding plumageEastern Willet in breeding plumage – Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/640, ISO 250, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light

I’ve had the good fortune to photograph both the eastern and western subspecies of Willet (Tringa semipalmata) in breeding plumage, the eastern in Florida and the western in Utah and Montana.

The image above shows the eastern subspecies; Tringa semipalmata semipalmata, in breeding plumage. This bird and another successfully reared young at Fort De Soto’s north beach in 2009. This bird is perched on a White Mangrove on June 21, 2009.

Western Willet in breeding plumageWestern Willet in breeding plumage – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/1600, ISO 500, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

This image shows the western subspecies; Tringa semipalmata inornata, in breeding plumage perched on Rabbitbrush on Antelope Island State Park on June 6, 2012.

It is difficult to see the differences in the two subspecies but close observation shows that the bill of the eastern subspecies is thicker than the western and the bill of the western is slightly longer. The plumage patterns are also slightly different plus the white around the eye of the western seems more pronounced.


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About Mia McPherson

I am a nature lover, wildlife watcher and a bird photographer. I first become serious about bird photography when I moved to Florida in 2004 and it wasn’t long before I was hooked (addicted is more like it). My move to the Salt Lake area of Utah was a great opportunity to continue observing their behavior and to pursue my passion for photographing birds.


  1. Mia:
    Thanks for posting this. I wasn’t sure how to distinguish the two.
    The photos do a good job of illustrating the differences.

  2. Great comparison, those slender bills are a key to ID, and it drove me crazy with the fish crow. I like the leaves on the first one and the bush on the 2nd.

  3. Both are great images. I noticed the thicker bill of the western right away-nice of you to confirm that for me!

  4. There’s not enough detail in these photos ;)

  5. A brilliant bird, cheers Mia for a bird that we don’t get here.

  6. Oh sharp! I love how the Eastern bird is perched, but gotta say our Western Willet is prettier :)

  7. The under belly of the western seems to cover fully while the eastern has some white at the bottom. You have to wonder why that is. Is it climate? Love these Mia. Carol

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