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Wildlife of South Dakota

This lesson is all about wild animals in South Dakota. Keep scrolling for fun facts, four activity sheets, and a game about having your own pheasant hunt.

South Dakota's wide variety of habitats — like grasslands, mountains, lakes, and rivers — support a wild array of animals, including coyotes (the state animal), walleye (the state fish) and Chinese ring-necked pheasants (the state bird).



Habitat: the natural home or environment of a plant or animal.

Prairie Animals

Between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains is a huge stretch of prairie known as the Great Plains. Since the animals here are used to cold winters and hot summers, they can journey long distances in search of food and water.

Wildlife Loop Road, Custer State Park
Buffalo Calf
Buffalo calf


In the late 1700s, as many as 60 million bison roamed the grasslands of North America. By 1889, decades of overhunting and habitat loss shrank that number to 541, but now the bison are making a comeback. In South Dakota, you can find free-roaming herds of America's national mammal at Custer State Park, Badlands National Park, and Wind Cave National Park.


Bison are quite comfortable around cars in Custer State Park. You can see them right outside your window on the Wildlife Loop.

A baby buffalo calf is called a "red dog" for the color of its fur.

Bison are often called buffalo. The word comes from French fur trappers who called them "boefs."

Bison are usually content to slowly lumber around but can run up to 35 miles an hour when properly motivated.


Help the lost baby bison get back to his herd in the maze game and add color to the big bison on the coloring page.
Did you know the first baby bison of spring 2020 was born on April 6th?

Bison maze puzzle
Bison coloring page
Prairie Dogs

Prairie Dogs

There are five species of prairie dog in North America. In South Dakota, the most common is the black-tailed prairie dog. A distant relative of the squirrel, prairie dogs live together in groups of burrows called colonies. They talk to each other through shrill barks, which is why European explorers compared them to dogs. Prairie dogs have different calls for different predators and special calls for when it's safe to come outside.



Commonly called antelope, pronghorn are found throughout western South Dakota. They are the second-fastest land animal in the world, trailing only the cheetah. Both male and females have horns, but a buck’s horns grow longer than a doe’s. Keep an eye out for them on Wildlife Loop Road at Custer State Park.

Mountain Animals

The Black Hills region of South Dakota is home to unique creatures you can’t find anywhere else in the state. Animals here are adapted for higher elevations, which means they are comfortable calling the mountains home.

mountain lion

Mountain Lion

Mountain lions—also called cougars, pumas, and panthers—are listed in the dictionary under more names than any other animal in the world. You can also call them hard to find. Because they are both nocturnal and sneaky, you are very lucky if you see a mountain lion in the wild. South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks estimates there are about 300 of them in the Black Hills.

Mountain Goats

Mountain Goat

Mountain goats are not native to South Dakota, but they seem right at home in the rocky Black Hills. Most goats in the Black Hills descend from a group of six that escaped from then-open Custer State Park Zoo in the 1920s. You can find these nimble climbers scaling the side of Mount Rushmore, especially if you come during morning hours.


What birds can you see around your home? Look as hard as you want, but you probably won’t see a ring-necked pheasant or a flock of ducks like you would in South Dakota.



South Dakota's wetlands are the ideal habitat for ducks, geese, and countless other water-loving birds. That's because the east side of the state lies in the Prairie Pothole Region, a tract of grassland spotted with a massive amount of sloughs and ponds. These small, sheltered bodies of water make the perfect nursery for ducklings and goslings.

Ring-Necked Pheasant

Ring-Necked Pheasant

The state bird of South Dakota, pheasants are native to Asia but have been introduced as a game species (meant for hunting) around the world. They thrive in South Dakota, thanks to plenty of grassland habitat and crops to eat. Males, or roosters, are brightly colored with shades of red, green, and orange. Female pheasants, or hens, are tan and brown colored, helping them blend with the grass.


More than 50% of North American migratory waterfowl call the Prairie Pothole Region (Midwest grasslands dotted with lakes) home.

At-Home Pheasant Hunt

Ask your parents for help with this activity! Cut the pheasants out from the sheet below and have your parents hide them. Can you find them all?

Pheasant Hunt


Why does South Dakota have so many lakes? Ice. Thousands of years ago, Ice Age glaciers scooped out huge chunks of earth. Over time, the glaciers melted and the scrapes filled with water, providing habitat for South Dakota’s fish.



Of all the fish in the Missouri River and South Dakota's lakes, walleyes are the most popular fishing target. These predatory fish travel up to 50 miles a night in search of food and can live more than 20 years in the wild.



One of South Dakota’s weirdest fish is also its oldest—fossil records show the paddlefish has evolved very little over the last 125 million years. These sharklike creatures use electric signals in their paddle, called a rostrum, to find plankton to eat. It’s like underwater Marco Polo!

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Illustrated image of three bison grazing in Custer State Park. The Needles rock formation is visible in the background.
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