From rolling hills and prairie marshes & lakes to sky-piercing granite peaks and lush mountain meadows, South Dakota's diverse terrain is home to a variety of habitats and nearly 400 species of birds. Trails across the state wind through public & protected habitats, including oak-basswood forests, native prairies, wetlands, glacial lakes, and the reservoirs & tail waters of the Missouri River.
You can click here for an interactive birding trail map that features interactive points that provide detail on habitat, birds, best months, and contact info. South Dakota Game Fish and Parks also has several resources to aid any level of birding expertise. In addition to “The Fledgling Birder,” birders can get their hands on region-specific birding publications as well as the Backyard Birding books at state parks, regional GFP offices or request a copy by emailing [email protected].
Read on to see how you can have the ultimate birding experience in each of South Dakota's four regions.
Black Hills & Badlands
The Black Hills, Badlands and Lakes Birding Trail covers the western third of South Dakota and includes 38 sites and more than 350 species of birds. While much of the region is open prairie grassland, varying landforms add both beauty and habitat for a variety of birds. Mountain bluebird, red-breasted nuthatch, common poorwill, and spotted towhee are common in the northwestern part of the region. Several rivers attract bald eagles, golden eagles, and ferruginous hawks while wetlands offer a home to green-winged teal and northern pintail. There are three driving loops — the Buttes and Prairies Loop, the Badlands, Lakes and Canyons Loop, and the Black Hills loop — and each offer unique birding opportunities.
The Mighty Mo' bisects South Dakota. It's also home to the Great Lakes Birding Trail, which boasts at least 322 species and covers more than 400 miles. This trail follows the course of both the Missouri River and the Lewis & Clark Trail. Sites such as the Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge, Lower Brule Indian Reservation Birding Loop, Farm Island Recreation Area, Oahe Downstream Recreation Area, West Whitlock Recreation Area, and Cheyenne River Indian Reservation Birding Loop are only some of the great birding places in this region.
Glacial Lakes & Prairies
Get a bird's-eye view of northeastern South Dakota by following the Glacial Lakes & Prairies Birding Trail. The trail includes 38 sites ranging from state parks teeming with warblers to waterfowl production areas full of shorebirds. Top sites along the trail include Oakwood Lakes State Park, Waubay National Wildlife Refuge, Sica Hollow State Park, and Sand Lake National Refuge.
The Southeast South Dakota Birding Trail provides a detailed look into birding southeastern South Dakota. The trail's 33 sites include woodlands — a magnet for dozens of warbler species — and prairie pothole lakes & wetlands teeming with marsh birds, shore birds, and wetland species. Top sites along the trail include the Outdoor Campus, Lake Herman State Park, Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge, and Adams Homestead and Nature Preserve.
Birding in South Dakota's State Parks
Some of the best places to enjoy birding are in South Dakota’s state parks and recreation areas. You’ll find a variety of habitats to explore, including oak-basswood forests, native prairies, wetlands, glacial lakes, and the tail waters and reservoirs of the Missouri River.
Squarely in the middle of where eastern and western North American avifaunas (bird regions) meet, several eastern bird species reach the western limits of their breeding range in eastern South Dakota and are considered uncommon or very local summer residents. These include birds like the whippoorwill and vireo found in two of the state’s birding hotspots: Newton Hills and Hartford Beach State Parks. At Farm Island Recreation Area, located a few miles below the Missouri River dam at Pierre, the birder will find both the rose-breasted grosbeak and its western counterpart, the black-headed grosbeak.
The greatest number of species will occur in parks and recreation areas during spring and fall migration. However, it is the spring migration when male birds exhibit their colorful breeding plumage. Union Grove State Park is one of the best areas to observe the spring migration of wood warblers and other Neotropical migrants.
Birders should bring a good field guide showing both eastern and western species. If you see a rare or unusual bird, please report your observation to the park naturalist or manager. Note the dates and location of your observations in the park. Have fun!