Birdwatching in Southeast South Dakota is a great way to pass the time on a family vacation. Even if you're not an avid bird watcher you still should bring your binoculars and camera. With more than 300 species of birds to observe along the 33 points of Southeast South Dakota’s Birding Trail. You're sure to see something of interest.
Eastern South Dakota is a stopping place for millions of birds following both the Central and Mississippi migratory flyways in spring and fall. It's varied habitats offer the right environment for nearly 150 nesting species, along with a number of species that nest in the northern reaches of the continent spending each winter here.
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In the grassland habitat areas, birdwatching enthusiasts can observe prairie species such as the Upland Sandpiper, Greater Prairie Chicken, Bobolink and Short-eared Owl. Sandhill Cranes are annual migrants, stopping in fields throughout the western counties of the region. Whooping Cranes have been observed on rare occasions in the same area.
The Missouri River provides sandbars, on which may be found nesting Piping Plovers and Least Turns, and miles-long reservoirs with quiet bays where one may find many species of waterfowls, gulls and terns, including Common Goldeneye, Canvas back, Canada and Cackling geese, and Franklin’s Gull. Sabine’s Gull, Black-legged Kittiwake and Arctic Tern have been found at Gavins Point Dam. Riparian and cottonwood habitats along the shores of the Missouri, James and Big Sioux rivers attract dozens of songbird species, including Bell’s Vireo, Baltimore Oriole, Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.
The region’s woodlands are a magnet for three dozen species of warblers during spring migration, such as Blackburnian, Cape May, Magnolia and Mourning warblers. The woods are alive with nesting species throughout spring and summer, such as Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Eastern Wood Pewee. Eastern Screech-Owls are common in the region. One may regularly find American Woodcock and Wood Thrush in the woodlands along the Big Sioux and Missouri rivers.
Prairie pothole lakes and other wetlands teem with migrating and nesting ducks, wading birds, shorebirds and wetland species, including Hooded Merganser, Wilson’s Phalarope, Willet, Least Bittern, and Sedge Wren.
Soaring over the entire region are the raptors, including Bald Eagle, Swainson's Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Cooper's Hawk and American Kestrel. Below the Gavin's Point dam, near Yankton, an aggressive work is in progress to re-introduce the Peregrine Falcon.
Enjoy your South Dakota birdwatching experience!
South Dakota Birding Trail Points
1. Great Bear Recreation Area, Sioux Falls.
2. The Outdoor Campus, Sioux Falls
3. Northwest Stretch of the Sioux Falls Bike Trail, Sioux Falls
4. Big Sioux Recreation Area, Brandon
5. Prairie Pothole Lake Loop, near Humboldt
6. Lake Vermillion Recreation Area and GPA, near Canistota
7. Flandreau City Park, Flandreau
8. Milwaukee Lake, near Madison
9. Madison Wetland Management District Headquarters and Madison WPA
10. Lake Herman State Park, Madison
11. Reynolds Slough GPA, near Madison
12. Lake Carthage, Carthage
13. Chip Allen GPA, near Mitchell
14. Lake Mitchell, Mitchell
15. Hogrefe GPA, near Parkston
16. James River Road, from Milltown to Yankton
17. Broken Arrow WPA, near Platte
18. Gray GPA and Platte Creek Recreation Area, near Platte
19. Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge, Lake Andes
20. North Point Recreation Area, near Pickstown
21. Randall Creek Recreation Area and Pickstown GPA at Fort Randall Dam, Pickstown
22. Missouri River Bottom Route, Pickstown to Springfield
23. Meier’s Lake Spring Migration Loop, near Avon
24. Gavins Point Dam, near Yankton
25. Missouri River Observation Route, near Vermillion
26. Clay County Lakeside Use Area, near Vermillion
27. Adams Homestead and Nature Preserve, near North Sioux City
28. Spirit Mound Historic Prairie, near Vermillion
29. Union Grove State Park, near Beresford
30. Oak Ridge GPA, near Hudson
31. Newton Hills State Park, Canton
32. Mud Lake, near Davis
33. Atkins Slough WPA, near Tea