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.



  1. Dave Sparks October 7, 2012 at 7:20 pm

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

    • Mia McPherson October 8, 2012 at 6:00 am

      Dave, thanks for commenting on this post and the images.

  2. M. Firpi October 7, 2012 at 6:39 pm

    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.

    • Mia McPherson October 8, 2012 at 6:00 am

      Maria, with the Fish versus American Crow often times the call is the best key for ID. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Julie Brown October 7, 2012 at 6:00 pm

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

  4. Azstu October 7, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    There’s not enough detail in these photos 😉

    • Mia McPherson October 8, 2012 at 5:58 am

      😉 I’ll try harder next time Stu!

  5. Bob Bushell October 7, 2012 at 2:16 pm

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

    • Mia McPherson October 7, 2012 at 3:22 pm

      Thanks Bob, they are a fascinating bird.

  6. Beverly Everson October 7, 2012 at 1:20 pm


    • Mia McPherson October 7, 2012 at 1:26 pm

      Thank you much Beverly!

  7. Laurence Butler October 7, 2012 at 10:08 am

    Oh sharp! I love how the Eastern bird is perched, but gotta say our Western Willet is prettier 🙂

    • Mia McPherson October 7, 2012 at 1:25 pm

      Thank you Laurence. I’m torn, I think they are both beautiful.

  8. Carol Mattingly October 7, 2012 at 8:49 am

    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

    • Mia McPherson October 7, 2012 at 1:24 pm

      Thanks Carol, I agree about the belly coloring.

Comments are closed.