Stand-off between Willets

When I walked on the beach this morning, I hoped to see Willets. And almost like a clockwork, they have returned to their breeding grounds in MA. By the end of April, Willets return and start to stake out their territories. On May 1st, the beach was alive with the pill-will-willet and Kip-Kip-Kip calls of returning Willets. I found at least five pairs vocalizing and announcing their arrival.

The eastern subspecies of Willets are primarily monogamous, bonding for life. Most Willets arrive on the shores of Massachusetts as pairs, ready to set up their nesting territories. The male of the bonded pair engages with the unpaired male trying to attract his mate. I have often noticed a wing-up display by the male Willet when another Willet comes near. The paired Willets engage with the intruder if the bird lands nearby. I have seen this behavior for the first couple of weeks after their arrival to the breeding grounds in Massachusetts. It is always fun to watch and photograph these birds engaging in territorial displays and fights accompanied by their emphatic call.

Why this photo works

In this photograph, the intruder on the left was slowly backing away as the male in the middle successfully defended his territory and mate. It is the behavior of these birds, captured in a beautiful golden light, that makes this photo work.

I was lying in the mudflat, with my camera and lens almost touching the sand. This low angle created a pleasing blurred foreground and an excellent smooth background. The little bubbles left behind by the receding tide adds an interesting little touch to the photo. The raised foot of the middle willet and the intruder's crossed leg position on the left tells the story of their breeding behavior.

Technical Details

 MAY 1, 2022 @ 6:35 AM

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