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American Woodcock Viewing At Devil’s Lake State Park

Romance will soon fill the air when spring peepers begin singing, but the American woodcock’s aerial courtship display will add another dimension. Visit Devil’s Lake State Park in Baraboo, Wis., this spring for a rare opportunity to view this disproportionately shaped bird’s unusual mating ritual.

Friday evening, April 26, 2013, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., join Devil’s Lake State Park’s naturalist to watch for male American woodcocks dancing in the air and singing to attract females. Bring a lawn chair, blanket and binoculars, and meet at the Steinke Basin parking lot, five minutes west of the Inn at Wawanissee Point.

Also known as the Timberdoodle, the woodcock lives in young forests and shrubby areas near wetlands, streams and rivers. It uses its long, flexible bill to dig for earthworms. The kettle ponds, creek and brushy habitat along the mature forest edge in the Steinke Basin area of Devil’s Lake State Park offer the Timberdoodle a good home.

Once plentiful, the woodcock population across eastern North America has declined steadily by one percent a year since the 1960s as forests have matured and development has overtaken much of its habitat. In 2001 several federal and state wildlife agencies and conservation organizations, including the Ruffed Grouse Society, formed a task force and a conservation plan to restore habitat for this odd bird, one of few shorebirds hunted. Learn more about these efforts at

This usually silent and excellently camouflaged, plump, neckless bird about 10 inches long is difficult to spot and seldom seen as it combs through muddy thickets probing for worms. The wary bird becomes nearly invisible as it freezes in place when its large eyes spot danger. But in early spring at dusk it offers us the special treat to view the male’s spiraling aerial display alternated with a rhythmic, buzzy peent sound.

The male will peent repeatedly while bobbing around on the ground, fly upward in a spiral as high as 300 feet and then zig-zag in a downward dive, its wing feathers making a chirping sound as it descends. He’ll land silently, hopefully beside a female, and then repeat the performance. The males will continue this display even after most females have laid eggs.

  • Listen to the Timberdoodle’s vocalizations and see photos at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Web site here.

Looking For Woodcocks In Baraboo

Around the Inn, red-winged black birds, robins and Eastern phoebes have returned as of April 5, 2013, besides geese and sandhill cranes. Spring migration is unfolding in earnest.

Woodcocks were reported in northeastern states a few weeks ago, so the elusive birds may have already returned to Baraboo. Hike through shrubby edges of the Merrimac Preserve and Roznos Meadow, east of the Park, for additional opportunities to view the Timberdoodle, besides Steinke Basin.

Afterward, rest peacefully at the Inn at Wawanissee Point, the only bed and breakfast adjacent Devil’s Lake State Park.

Reserve a guest room here, or click on the Check Availability box at the top the page or call us at 608-355-9899 to book your room.

More Bird Watching Events At Devil’s Lake State Park

April 24:  Bird Watching Along East Bluff, 2:00 p.m.–3:30 p.m. Meet at the north shore at the East Bluff trailhead kiosk, five minutes west of the Inn. Bring binoculars. We’ll hike up this trail to see which birds have returned from their winter hiatus.

April 27:  Spring Photography Hike, 10:30 a.m.–12:00 p.m. Meet at the north shore’s nature center, 5 minutes west of the Inn, to learn about digital photography. Bring your camera; we’ll go looking for spring beauty throughout the park.

April 27:  Twilight Hike, 7:30 p.m.–9:00 p.m. Meet at the Steinke Basin parking lot, five minutes west of the Inn, to explore the world of crepuscular (active at dusk and dawn) and nocturnal animals. As the sun sets we’ll search and listen for critters on the move at night.

May 3:  Evening Bird Hike, 6:00 p.m.–7:30 p.m. With spring in full swing, many birds have returned to the Baraboo Hills. Spend the evening on a challenging hike on the CCC trail, one of the park’s steeper trails, looking for spring migrants. Wear hiking boots and bring binoculars. Meet at the group-camp parking lot near the south shore entrance, less than 10 minutes southwest of the Inn.

For questions about events at the Park, call 608-356-8301 ext. 140 or e-mail [email protected] with questions.


Trail Background