Willets are identified on the ground by their grey legs and shortish, heavy but straight bill. The plumage is grey above with a white rump, and white below with a distinct white area above the lores and a narrow whitish eyering giving the bird a spectacled appearance. The underparts are white. In breeding plumage, the bird shows brown barring on the upperparts. Non-breeding birds are plainer.
Willets feed on crabs, worms, clams, and other invertebrates as well as fish and aquatic insects. They are flexible in their feeding habits and hunt by walking steadily and pecking prey from the substrate, although they also probe into the mud or silt with their sensitive bill and may actively stalk larger prey in shallow water.