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South Dakota Birds – Watching and Feeding Information

Ring-necked Pheasant

Ring-necked Pheasant – South Dakota State Bird

South Dakota is a great place to watch and feed birds. Birdbaths, misters and drippers are especially effective in attracting birds, including non seed-eating species. Species that might be expected at feeders include: American Goldfinch, Black-capped Chickadee, Common Redpoll, Hairy Woodpecker, Red-winged Blackbird and Mourning Dove. Each of these species is shown in the Nifty Fifty mini-guide.

The Nifty Fifty Birds of South Dakota

The Nifty Fifty is a mini-guide to the birds of South Dakota. It includes descriptions, images, video and songs of 50 of the most often observed birds of South Dakota.

Bird feeding

Developing bird-friendly habitat in your yard is the best way to attract a greater variety of species and to support local and migrating species. Native plants provide food and cover, are more insect and disease resistant than non-native species, and may require less water. A list of bird-friendly native plants for South Dakota is available by following the link on the left.

Bluebirds of South Dakota

The Eastern Bluebird is a summer resident in South Dakota. Mountain Bluebirds extend their range to most parts of the state during migration.

Bluebirds are usually found in fields, open woodlands, parks or along golf courses or other open areas, including suburban locations with open spaces and scattered tress. In the mountains, they are found in clearings and meadows.

mountain bluebird

The Mountain Bluebird is well known for its hovering flight as it hawks for insects.

eastern bluebird

The Eastern Bluebird has a musical flight call that often reveals its presence.

Visit the bluebird section for detailed information on feeding bluebirds or building your own bluebird house.

Bluebirds can be attracted to peanut butter mixes, suet and fruit. Raisins soaked in hot water to soften them are well received. The bluebird’s special favorite is mealworms.

The Eastern Bluebird nests throughout North Dakota in appropriate habitat. One or two broods may be produced. Three to five light blue eggs are typical.

The nesting range of the Mountain Bluebird is limited to isolated areas in the western edge of the state. The typical clutch for Mountain Bluebirds is 4 to 6 pale, blue eggs.

If you have a bluebird box, watch for House Sparrows trying to use the next box and immediately remove any House Sparrow nesting material.

Hummingbirds of South Dakota

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the only hummingbird species found in South Dakota. Its range is limited to the eastern half of the state.

ruby-throated hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Visit the hummingbird section for details on attracting hummingbirds as well as images of all regularly occurring North American hummingbirds.

Purple Martins

Purple Martins summer and nest in the eastern half of South Dakota, and can be found throughout the state duing migration. The nesting preference in North Dakota is natural cavities, compared to Purple Martins in the eastern United States, which rely almost exclusively on made made housing.

Visit the Purple Martin section of the this site for detailed information.

Purple Martins are one of America’s favorite birds. Their arrival each spring is a much heralded event in many backyards and their departure each fall marks the passing of another year for many. In the eastern U.S., Purple Martins nest almost exclusively in Purple Martin houses and gourds provided by man. In the west they nest more regularly in natural cavities.

Purple Martin Scouts

Scouts are the earliest arrivals each year. They are the oldest members of the population and head north each year to claim the best nesting locations. Scouts can be either male or female birds.

Purple martins summer and nest in the eastern half of South Dakota, and can be found throughout the state duing migration. Look for scouts to start arriving in early April. Martins move north as the weather warms and insect populations start to increase so the arrival time will vary from year to year and from one part of the state to another.

Purple Martins winter in South America. The journey can be as long as 5000 miles each way, each year! Martins follow at least three different paths as they return each spring. Some move through Mexico on their way to the West Coast. Others cross the Gulf of Mexico, leaving from the Yucatan Peninsula or take a route through the Caribbean islands to arrive in Florida.

Fall migration can start as early as mid-July in some parts of the country. In Florida migrants can be seen into September or October, with isolated reports even later in the the year. Prior to heading to South America, flocks of thousands of martins collect in roosts, some as large as hundreds of thousands of martins.

During the winter season these birds are apparently concentrated chiefly in the Amazon Valley of Brazil (Manaqueri, Barra do Rio Negro, and Itaituba) but are found in other parts of South America. A list of possible martin roosts in Alabama is available on the Purple Martin Conservation Association web site.

Martin nests typically have from five to six white eggs. One egg is laid each day at sunrise and no days are skipped until the egg-laying stops. Incubation lasts about 15 days but may last longer in cool weather. Purple martins fledge about 25-35 days after hatching.

Visit thePurple Martin section of the main Birdzilla Web site for information on martin houses, attracting purple martins and becoming a good purple martin landlord.

From the Bent Life Histories

Finally, here’s a glimpse at what noted ornithologist Alexander Sprunt Jr. said about purple martins in the Bent Life History series:

“It has always seemed to me that literature has been somewhat chary of the purple martin. Song and story have long stressed the advent of robin, bluebird, and goose as heralds of spring, and so they are, but is the martin any less so? True, it comes somewhat later than these others, but who can fail to thrill when, on waking early one morning, one hears the rich, gurgling calls of the first martin! It is a signal that spring is really at hand, indeed, at one’s very door. When the martins come, can summer be far behind? This largest of the swallows, in its handsomely glossy livery, whether slurred by literature or not, has ken a favorite with humanity for many generations. Even before the White man came to America’s shores it was a dooryard bird in Indian villages, and its status as such is unchanged today. It is, beyond all doubt, the “bird-box” species of this country. Its range is extensive, almost universal indeed, and it occurs from coast to coast and border to border. Young and old admire it, encourage it, and protect it, and those who have a word of criticism for it are few and far between. Alexander Wilson said that, in his day, he never found but one man who disliked the martin, and many a modern ornithologist will have had the same experience, if indeed it can be matched! Some birds occupy high pedestals in human regard, typified by the robin in the North and the mockingbird in the South, but in North and South the purple martin comes and goes as a welcome arrival and regretful departure; an always invited avian neighbor. Few are those anywhere who would fail to subscribe heartily to the wish: may its tribe increase.” (Mr. Sprunt and Mr. Wilson are two of America’s best known and most respected early ornithologists.)

purple martin

Purple Martin, male


South Dakota provides birders with a variety of exciting birding locations.

The birding section of this site has tips on birding locations and bird identification. The state-based birding information section provides additional birding related information.

South Dakota Resource Information

Missouri Breaks Audubon Society
P.O. Box 832
Pierre, SD 57501

Prairie Hills Audubon Society of Western S.D.
P.O. Box 788
Black Hawk, SD 57718
Fax 605-787-6466

South Dakota Birding Festivals

Bald Eagle Awareness Days

Annually in February
Pierre, South Dakota
Phone: 605-773-4229
E-mail: [email protected]
This annual event is a joint effort by conservation agencies and organizations to increase public involvement and awareness concerning bald eagles and other raptors. Bald eagles are found only in North America. The bald eagle is the symbol of our nation, chosen because of its majestic and graceful appearance and its aura of power and wildness.

Sand Lake Eagle Day
(Not being held in 2008 due to construction)
Usually in March
Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge
, Columbia, South Dakota
Phone: 605-885-6320
E-mail: [email protected]
Eagle Day celebrates the spectacular spring migration through Sand Lake Refuge and the James River Valley. It is a day filled with free activities the entire family will enjoy! All activities are FREE and take place at Refuge Headquarters noon to 5:00.

South Dakota Birding Festival

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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