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Birding in South Dakota

South Dakota’s diverse terrain, from rolling hills to sky-piercing granite peaks to lush mountain meadows, and prairie marshes and lakes, is home to nearly 400 species of birds.

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.