At a Glance
Hours: 6 am to 10 pm
Tips: A scope is useful. Early morning and late afternoon/evening are usually the best times, but water birds can be present at any time of the day. The lake can be crowded on weekends and holidays, especially in warm weather.
Best Seasons: Year-round.
Breeding Bird Atlas Block: Savage NW
Hyla Brook Road, Columbia, MD 21044
Wilde Lake, located in the town of Columbia in Howard County, is a 22-acre man-made lake built in the mid-1960s. The lake and small adjoining park (about 39 acres total) are owned by the Columbia Association, the local community association that sponsors a wide array of recreational, cultural, and community services. The lake varies in depth from 13 feet behind the dam to a few feet at the west end. Though relatively small, the lake and surrounding area have hosted a number of notable birds over the years, and is an oasis in a highly developed area. As such, Wilde Lake is highly popular with local birders.
The area surrounding the lake consists mostly of mowed open space, scattered deciduous trees, and a few patches of undergrowth. Floating vegetated islands have been placed at the northwest edge, popular with the local ducks. At times when water levels are low, exposed mud attracts shorebirds. A stream, part of the tributary system of the Little Patuxent River,flows into the lake at the northwest end, under a bridge and through deciduous woods.
The 1.5-mile trail around the lake has side trails that connect to other parts of the Columbia Association path system, so it is possible to make the lake the focus of a lengthier walk through the neighborhoods (see trail map at link at left). Although most of the path around the lake is paved, there is a section on the southwest side, that is a mulched path for a short distance before swinging away from the lake edge to the street, skirting several houses and then it returning to the paved path system at the west end of the lake
Over 190 species of birds have been reported on eBird from Wilde Lake. Double-crested Cormorants are generally present spring into summer. Black-crowned Night-Herons may be found here in spring, and Baltimore Orioles nest in the spring. Several species of swallows are present throughout the summer, hunting over the waters of the lake. Shorebirds can be found sporadically, generally from April through September (dependent on water levels).
Large flocks of Bonaparte’s Gulls are an almost annual event, making short visits of generally 15-30 minutes during late March and early April. One or two Great Black-backed Gulls can visit in winter or spring. Waterfowl are present throughout the winter.
There is a wide selection of small passerines, including nuthatches, chickadees, titmice, kinglets (winter) and so on.
Some of the path around the lake is wheelchair-accessible. The level path on the north side is in view of the water along its entire length. Park in the paved lot near the fishing pier and dam for best access to the paved path. Do not park in the gravel lot, which would require moving across grass and down a slope in order to reach the paved path. The east end of the lake by the dam contains steep slopes. Avoid the mulched part of the lake trail at the southwest corner of the lake.
Pets are allowed on leash; pick up after your pet.
- Several dozen trees on the west side labeled with identifying information constitute the Wilde Lake Arboretum.
- Fishing is permitted at the lake, and there is a fishing pier on the north side that makes a good vantage point for birding. Another good vantage point is at a dock near the south end of the dam.
- There is a playground on the north side, near a large barn
- A set of seasonal lists of birds, butterflies, dragonflies, mammals, and herps is available at https://howardbirds.website/birding/birding-howard-county-md/site-guides/wilde-lake/wilde-lake-species-lists/, courtesy of the Howard County Bird Club.
Local MOS Chapter:
The Howard County Bird Club, a chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society, holds bird walks at Centennial Lake and Park; such walks are free and open to the public. See the Howard County Bird Club’s calendar for more information.
The Howard County Bird Club has a detailed online guide, “Birding Howard County,” on their website at https://howardbirds.website/birding/birding-howard-county-md/site-guides/. Edited by Joanne Solem, the online guide replaces an older printed guide, now out-of-print. The website is up-to-date and extremely detailed. Check it out!
One paved lot and one gravel lot along the north edge of the lake, off Hyla Brook Road. See trail map at link at left.
From I-95 or I-295 or I-97, take MD Route 32 westbound toward Columbia. From MD Route 32, take Exit 16A for US Route 29 north. Go 3.4 miles north on US Route 29, and then take Exit 20B for MD Route 175 westbound toward Columbia Town Center. MD Route 175 becomes Little Patuxent Parkway. Continue about 1.0 mile to West Running Brook Road and turn right (west); then take an almost immediate left to go west on Hyla Brook Road. Continue 0.1 mile to a paved parking lot on the left near the dock, or continue another 0.1 mile to a gravel parking area on the left near a red-roofed barn, at 10027 Hyla Brook Road.
Howard County: Centennial Lake & Park ■ David Force Natural Resource Area ■ Howard County Conservancy – Mount Pleasant Farm ■ Lake Elkhorn ■ Middle Patuxent Environmental Area ■ Patapsco Valley State Park – Daniels Area ■ Patapsco Valley State Park – Henryton ■ Patuxent River State Park – Annapolis Rock Road Area ■ Patuxent River State Park – Hipsley Mill Road Area ■ Rockburn Branch Park ■ Schooley Mill Park ■ Triadelphia Reservoir (Brighton Dam) ■ Western Regional Park
HedgerowsUpland Deciduous Garden or ArboretumLawn, Ballfields, Golf CourseSuburban Neighborhood Old Fields, Shrubby Meadows Freshwater Pond, Lake, or Reservoir
Features:BeginnersBicycle Trails (Bikes may be prohibited on some trails)Free - No Entry Fee at Any TimeHiking/Walking TrailsParkingPets AllowedPicnic AreaPlaygroundWater ViewWheelchair Accessible FeaturesYoung People / Families
Type:Community and Urban ParksPonds, Lakes, and Reservoirs