Springtime in South Dakota brings more than budding flora and greener pastures. When winter’s chill gives way to warmer weather, the newest baby animals begin to venture out and explore the great place they call home. From the baby buffalo in Custer State Park in the west to the whitetail fawns of the central plains, take a trek across the state in search of South Dakota’s cuddliest critters.
Before they grow into the massive and majestic beasts that are so iconic in South Dakota, baby bison start out as little orange puffs of fur with knobby knees and a face that could melt your heart. One of the best places to spot these adorable calves and their impressive parents is in Custer State Park in western South Dakota. Here, approximately 1,300 wild bison roam freely across more than 71,000 open acres.
Although they’re quite the rare sight to see in person, you can always tell a mountain goat kid by their permanent little grin and fluffy white coat. Only a small population of Rocky Mountain goats exists in western South Dakota, usually roaming in the areas surrounding Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Custer State Park, Spearfish Canyon and Crazy Horse Memorial.
Much like bighorn sheep, young mountain goats are natural-born climbers. After all, they’re literally born on steep cliff faces where they will remain for the first few weeks of their life. Mountain goats are not only skilled at traversing extreme terrain, but they’re a tricky bunch, too. In fact, the only reason that Rocky Mountain goats exist in South Dakota today is because a small group was imported from Canada to be kept in a zoo in Custer State Park in the 1920s. However, shortly after their arrival, the goats had escaped into the Black Hills, where they’ve remained untamed ever since.
Heading east to Badlands National Park, you’re likely to see little fuzz balls clinging to the area’s jutting cliffs and buttes during the first warm months of the year. These resilient little buggers aren’t wayward tumbleweeds, but rather the park’s newest generation of bighorn sheep. The young lambs and their headstrong parents can be found all across the Black Hills and Badlands region. They set up camp in the foothills but never stray too far from the steep cliff faces they can run up with ease to avoid predators.
Continuing farther east towards the Missouri River region and the wide-open plains, you’ll find some of the most adorable rumps you’ve ever seen. This little pronghorn antelope fawn may have some wobbly legs for the time being, but less than a month after being born he’ll be bounding across the short grass prairies with the ease of a natural-born runner. Adult antelope can reach speeds of up to 60 miles per hour. And the little tuft of hair on their tail isn’t just for looking cute. This hair will stand on end when they’re frightened, warning others in their herd of imminent danger.
At a young age, it can almost be hard to tell a whitetail deer apart from an antelope, but the giveaway is the deer’s signature white spots. In fact, whitetail fawns have an average of three hundred spots on their coat just after they’re born. Similar to antelope, whitetail deer are quick learners. They can typically stand and walk within just a half hour of birth and will be able to outrun most danger by the time they’re three weeks old. During the spring, whitetail can be found all across the state, particularly in wooded areas with nearby farmlands where they can graze and play.
In the Glacial Lakes and Prairies region of northeastern South Dakota, springtime brings baby birds by the boatloads. Mother ducks are known to build nests near bodies of water, such as Roy Lake near Sisseton and Lake Thompson near De Smet. Here the ducklings learn to swim shortly after they’re born. You’ll find groups of these feathered fluff balls following their mothers around in lakes and rivers all across the state. The most common types of ducks are Mallards and Wood Ducks.
Baby geese, or goslings, look very similar to ducklings while they’re still young. You’re likely to see Canada and Snow Geese, South Dakota’s most abundant kinds of geese, swimming around in the same bodies of water. You’ll often see a mother-and-father pair swimming around with their gaggle of youngsters. You’d be hard-pressed to find a much cuter family portrait.