With the abundance of wildlife and wilderness in the Black Hills, it is an ideal destination for birdwatching. The state has nine national wildlife refuges, six national parks, and 925,783 acres of important bird areas. Popular South Dakota birds include Gadwall, Upland Sandpiper, Ruffed Grouse, Say’s Phoebe, American Dipper, Grasshopper Sparrow, Red Crossbill, and Western Tanager.
Make sure to not disturb birds in their habitats. Stay a safe and respectful distance and use binoculars to get a closer look. Watch for signs indicating the presence of birds specially protected from intrusion, like least terns and piping plovers.
Badlands National Park
The dramatic and harsh Badlands landscape houses many bird species. Merlin and white-throated swifts can be seen from the Cliff Shelf Trail. Raptors like prairie falcons can be seen in the South Unit of the Badlands. The Sage Creek Wilderness Area also contains several bird species. Contact the Badlands park headquarters for maps and recent bird sightings of interest.
Spearfish Canyon is a beautiful nature area with numerous majestic waterfalls, hidden caves, steep canyons, and ponderosa pine forests. American dippers have nested behind Bridal Veil Falls. Other birds to look for include broad-winged hawk, red-tailed hawk, canyon wren, downy woodpecker, and red-breasted nuthatch. Birdwatching is best done in Spearfish canyon from April through September.
Custer State Park
The French Creek Nature Area and Wildlife Loop, Sylvan Lake, Black Elk Peak, and Little Devil’s Tower are the best spots in the park for birdwatching. The French Creek Trail has species such as pinyon jay, black-backed woodpecker, white-throated swift, upland sandpiper, and more. Sylvan Lake, Black Elk Peak, and Little Devil’s Tower are all great area to see ruffed grouse, red-headed woodpecker, red crossbill, American three-toed woodpecker, pine siskin, and white-winged crossbill, to name a few.
Spearfish’s Mirror Lake has a diverse and mixed habitat among the open water. Birdwatching is best here from March through October. Look for birds like short-eared owl, marsh wren, song sparrow, American robin, and Baltimore orioles. The shrub and grassland around the lake make for great birding, in the event of heavy fishing activity on the lake itself.
Located only 15 miles outside Rapid City, this 800 acre reservoir has 14 miles of shoreline and habitats ideal for birdwatching. Look for migrating waterfowl, bald eagles in the winter, and red-breasted nuthatch and black-capped chickadee in the summer. Long-tailed ducks are spotted at Pactola Reservoir on occasion.
For more information on birdwatching in the Black Hills, check out The Black Hills, Badlands and Lakes Birding Trail Guide.