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The Nature Conservancy

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To Catch a Willet

Ecologist Joe Smith holds an eastern willet after taking samples and measurements of the bird as part of his three-year research project.

Field intern Ashley Green holds a willet in a bag to keep it calm while she and a volunteer collect samples from the bird.

Counting feathers.

Drawing a blood sample.

Unique color-coded bands that identify tagged birds.

Portrait of a willet.

A geolocator tag, which use hours of sunlight to calculate latitude and longitude. Geolocators are small and lightweight, allowing researchers to track more types of migratory birds than satellite tags.

Smith and Green move in to catch a willet using a "mist net."

Dragging a larger net, dubbed the “reaper” by Smith and his team, across the marsh to catch a willet off the nest. Willets are the only shorebirds to nest in salt marshes.

Dragging a “reaper net.”

Smith and Green collect data.

Four willet eggs in a nest. The small metal disk is a temperature logging device that records incubation timing and flooding events.

Horseshoe crabs at Gandys Beach. Thousands of horseshoe crabs come ashore here in early summer to lay their eggs in the sand.

Joe Smith holds a handful of horseshoe crab eggs.

Gandys Beach is part of the Delaware Bayshores, an important stopover site for many migratory birds—eastern willets, red knots, turnstones, dowitchers, sandpipers, plovers and more.

An eastern willet surveys the marsh from a post.

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