26 Backyard Birds in South Dakota

Ring-necked Pheasant by Charles J. Sharp

Last Updated on January 24, 2024 by Greg Gillson

I’ve put this resource together for you to answer your question: What birds are in my backyard in South Dakota?

This article lists and discusses the identification of the most common birds in your backyard. The birds chosen in this article are compiled from actual data from the citizen science program eBird. Thus, it is more accurate than some other similar articles you may find on the web. I provide pictures of each bird species mentioned. I tell how to attract them to your backyard.

These are the most common backyard birds in South Dakota:

  1. American Robin
  2. Red-winged Blackbird
  3. Mourning Dove
  4. Common Grackle
  5. Black-capped Chickadee
  6. Western Meadowlark
  7. American Goldfinch
  8. House Sparrow
  9. European Starling
  10. Blue Jay
  11. Downy Woodpecker
  12. Northern Flicker
  13. Barn Swallow
  14. Dark-eyed Junco
  15. American Crow
  16. House Finch
  17. White-breasted Nuthatch
  18. Brown-headed Cowbird
  19. Chipping Sparrow
  20. Song Sparrow
  21. Eurasian Collared-Dove
  22. Hairy Woodpecker
  23. Eastern Kingbird
  24. House Wren
  25. Cliff Swallow
  26. Western Kingbird

South Dakota Birds and Birding in South Dakota State

eBird lists over 410 types of birds as occurring in the state of South Dakota.

The most common bird in South Dakota: the most frequently seen bird in the state is American Robin. It is reported on 37% of bird watching lists.

If you are serious about knowing the birds native to South Dakota, then check out eBird for South Dakota. It has recent sightings and photos, illustrated checklists with weekly abundance bar charts for state, counties, and individual hotspots of the best birding locations.

If you want to know about other people interested in birds in your area, join a local bird group. The American Birding Association maintains a list of bird watching clubs for each state.

South Dakota Bird Identification 

This section is the species accounts. These are designed to help you to recognize birds you see in your backyard. I have used eBird to select the birds that are most common. “Common” means the birds seen most often throughout the year, not necessarily the most numerous.

Each species account starts with a photograph. In the identification section I am using size and shape and bill type before considering the color or patterns on the birds. I find these more reliable when trying to identify an unknown bird. Pay attention to body and tail shape and especially bill shape of birds you see, not just plumage color.

In the section on bird feeders and foods I tell how to attract each species. Not all types of backyard birds will come to feeders. But all backyard birds can be attracted with water. So don’t forget to add a birdbath to your bird feeding station.

Do you live in western South Dakota? Eastern South Dakota? The Black Hills?

To appear in this article, most birds are widely distributed throughout the state and are often year-round residents. However, for those birds that are more localized in place or time, I list the general region and seasonality. Please see the section following these species accounts for the lists of common species by season.

Even if a species is found in a general area, they occur only in the habitat they prefer. So, the exact habitat of your neighborhood is important for the presence of absence of certain kinds of birds.

1. American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

This familiar bird is a resident in the northern half of the United States and a winter visitor in the southern half.

Photo of American Robin
American Robin. Greg Gillson.

Range in South Dakota: American Robins are year-round residents throughout most of South Dakota, summer residents only in northern South Dakota.

Identification: This is a key species for comparing with an unknown bird. 

Size: 10 inches long from bill tip to tail tip. About the same size as a Blue Jay or one of the Scrub-Jays. Larger than Red-winged Blackbird. Smaller than a Mourning Dove. 

Shape: Very plump with a fairly long tail. 

Bill: Straight and fairly slender, curved at the tip. 

Color: Gray-brown upperparts, rusty orange breast.

Habitat, range & behavior: Open woodlands, farmlands, urban parks and lawns. 

Migratory, breeds north across Alaska and Canada. Resident in most of the United States (lower 48). Winters in the United States, Mexico, to central America. 

Hops on your lawn turning head this way and that looking for food. Their caroling song is one of the early signs of spring in the north.

Food and feeder preference: American Robins eat earthworms and other invertebrates in the lawn. May eat fruit from a tray feeder or the ground. Eat small berries from trees and bushes.

2. Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)

These noisy flocking birds are most often found in marshes. But in winter they are found in backyards.

Photo of singing Red-winged Blackbird
Male Red-winged Blackbird. Greg Gillson.

 

Photo of female Red-winged Blackbird in tree
Female Red-winged Blackbird. Greg Gillson.

Range in South Dakota: Red-winged Blackbirds are summer residents throughout South Dakota, year-round residents in eastern and southern South Dakota.

Identification: This is a key species for comparing with an unknown bird.

Size: About 8-3/4 inches long from bill tip to tail tip. About the size of a Northern Cardinal. Smaller than an American Robin.

Shape: Pot-bellied with a longer bill and flat forehead. Tail average.

Bill: Long and sharp pointed.

Color: Males are black with red and yellow shoulder patch. Females are streaked brown and rusty (sparrow-like but pointed bill and flat forehead).

Habitat, range, and behavior: Cattail marshes and wetlands are their summer habitat. In winter they feed in grain fields.

They breed across most of the North American continent. In winter they withdraw from most of Alaska and Canada.

They are found in colonies in summer and large flocks in winter.

Food and feeder preference: They eat insects in summer. In winter they eat grain and seeds. They visit feeders, more often in large winter flocks, and eat most seeds and suet.

3. Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)

Mourning Doves are the most widespread and most frequent backyard bird in the Lower 48 states of the United States.

Photo of Mourning Dove in a tree
Mourning Dove. Greg Gillson.

Range in South Dakota: Mourning Doves are summer residents throughout South Dakota, year-round residents in southeastern South Dakota.

Identification: This is a key species for comparing with an unknown bird. 

Size: About 12 inches long from bill tip to tail tip. About same size as Northern Flicker. Larger than American Robin. Slightly smaller than domestic city pigeon. 

Shape: Very plump with a small round head. Tail is long and pointed. Legs are short. 

Bill: Small and rather slender. 

Color: Pale brown-pink body, darker wings and tail. White edges on side of tail.

Habitat, range & behavior: Semi-open areas such as urban areas, farmlands, woods. Often seen perched on wires, fences. 

It is a resident across the lower-48 states and Mexico, with some movement out of northern areas in winter. 

Their mournful cooing is a familiar spring birdsong.

Food and feeder preference: Mourning Doves eat seeds almost exclusively. Attract with black oil sunflower seeds on a large sturdy tray feeder or on the ground.

4. Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)

Sometimes considered a pest to crops, grackles are longer and lankier than very similar blackbirds.

Photo of Common Grackle on bird bath
Common Grackle. GeorgiaLens from Pixabay

Range in South Dakota: Common Grackles are summer residents throughout South Dakota, year-round residents in extreme southeastern South Dakota.

Identification: 

Size: Larger than Red-winged Blackbirds, they are near the length of Mourning Doves. 

Shape: Long, with long full keel-shaped tail, long legs, flat crown. 

Bill: Longer than head, pointed, but stouter than other blackbirds. 

Color: Glossy black with hint of bronze or green on head (depending upon population). Yellow eye.

Habitat, range & behavior: They are found in agricultural areas, woodland edges, city parks and lawns. 

Resident in the southeastern United States. In summer they migrate northward and west to the central United States and Canada. 

They monopolize feeders and are bullies toward other birds.

Food and feeder preference: Grain, corn, acorns, small aquatic fish and amphibians. To discourage them, use tube feeders, rather than hopper or tray feeders. Don’t over-feed, keep spilled seed picked up.

5. Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)

This is a common backyard bird in the northern half of the United States.

Photo of Black-capped Chickadee on bird bath
Black-capped Chickadee. Greg Gillson

 

Range in South Dakota: Black-capped Chickadees are year-round residents throughout South Dakota.

Identification: 

Size: Chickadees are small birds, the same general size as an American Goldfinch. 

Shape: Round body, big round head, long tail with rounded tip. 

Bill: Short, straight, stout. 

Color: Gray above, buffy below. Black cap and bib with white lower face. White edges on wing feathers.

Habitat, range & behavior: Deciduous and mixed forests. 

They range from the northern half of the United States, southern half of Canada, and most of Alaska. 

Small flocks flit actively from tree to tree acrobatically gleaning insects from twig tips. In winter chickadees make up the core of mixed-species flocks also containing nuthatches, kinglets, creepers, woodpeckers and others.

Food and feeder preference: Seeds, insects, berries. They eat at tube, hopper and tray feeders. They love black oil sunflower seeds and suet.

You may like my in-depth article on attracting Black-capped Chickadees.

6. Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta)

These are beautiful songsters of the prairie grasslands.

Photo of Western Meadowlark on fenceline
Western Meadowlark. Greg Gillson.

Range in South Dakota: Western Meadowlarks are summer residents throughout South Dakota.

Identification:

Size: Bigger than a European Starling, smaller than an American Robin.

Shape: Stocky and pot-bellied, with short tail and flat forehead profile.

Bill: Long, straight, and sharp pointed.

Color: Straw and brown-colored upper parts. Bright yellow below with black necklace. White outer tail feathers. Duller in winter.

Habitat, range, & behavior: Fields, pastures, prairies.

The summer across the West from the Great Lakes to the Pacific, and western Canada to western Texas, and into Mexico. Move out of Canada in winter and spread to Gulf Coast.

Forage on fields and bare grounds, often found with cattle. In  flocks in winter.

Foods and feeder preference: Grain and insects. They do not come to feeders.

7. American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)

A beautiful tiny finch familiar to many in it’s bright yellow summer plumage. Colloquially called a “wild canary.”

Photo of American Goldfinch
American Goldfinch. Greg Gillson

Range in South Dakota: American Goldfinches are summer residents throughout South Dakota.

Identification: This is a key species for comparing with an unknown bird. 

Size: Very small at about 5 inches from bill tip to tail tip. Similar in size to a chickadee. Larger than hummingbirds. Smaller than juncos and House Finches. 

Shape: Tiny, somewhat plump with larger head and short tail. 

Bill: Short, conical, pink. 

Color: Males in summer are bright lemon yellow with black forehead and black wings and tail with white bars. White under tail coverts. Females dull olive, wings and tail browner. Winter birds are pale grayish-yellow with tan and brown wings and tail.

Habitat, range & behavior: This species is found in weedy fields and similar clearings with thistles and similar plants. 

It is found coast-to-coast throughout the year across most of the middle lower-48 states. In summer moves north to the Canada border. In the winter found south to the Mexico border. 

The flight is highly undulating, rising and falling as they flap in short bursts. 

Besides a long, sweet lilting song, they call in flight a lilting 4-part: “potato chip!”

Food and feeder preference: Feeds on weed seeds, thistle seed. May eat black oil sunflower seeds from tube feeder. Love Nyjer seed in a feeder called a “thistle sock.”

You may like my in-depth article on attracting American Goldfinches.

8. House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)

Like the starling, this is another bird introduced from Europe in the 1800’s. This sparrow is commonly found in cities and farmlands. It is considered a pest in most areas where it has been introduced.

Photo of House Sparrow on feeder with sunflower seed
House Sparrow. Greg Gillson

Range in South Dakota: House Sparrows are year-round residents throughout South Dakota.

Identification: 

Size: The size of a House Finch or Dark-eyed Junco. 

Shape: Chunkier than native North American sparrows with large head, barrel chest, short neck, medium tail, short legs. 

Bill: Short, conical. 

Color: Males are brown and gray with a black mask. Females lack the black and are tan and brown with a pale line back from the eye.

Habitat, range & behavior: Cities and farms. 

Range in North American from southern Canada through Central America. In summer northward through Canada to southern Alaska. Originated in Middle East and spread to most of Europe and Asia. Introduced in South America, Africa, Australia–nearly anywhere there are people and cities. 

They tend to be messy… and have a good appetite, and may occur in large noisy chirping flocks. They are aggressive toward other feeder birds.

Food and feeder preference: They eat grain, seed, and insects. To discourage them from your hopper and tray feeders do not feed birds human food scraps. They have a bit of difficulty eating from tube feeders.

9. European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

Introduced to North America in the late 1800’s, they crossed the continent, often to the detriment of native cavity-nesting birds. The prime example of an invasive species.

Photo of European Starling
European Starling. Greg Gillson.

Range in South Dakota: European Starlings are year-round residents throughout South Dakota.

Identification: 

Size: About the size of a Red-winged Blackbird. Smaller than an American Robin. Larger than a White-crowned Sparrow or Spotted/Eastern towhee. 

Shape: Stocky with large head, short square-ended tail. Longer legs. 

Bill: As long as head. Sharp pointed. Yellow in spring, otherwise dark. 

Color: They are grayish brown much of the year, with glossy iridescence and white spotting during the spring.

Habitat, range & behavior: Lowland birds that need trees large enough for nest cavities but plenty of open area for feeding. They are most abundant in urban and suburban areas where they find food and artificial nest cavities. 

Resident from coast-to-coast from southern Canada to northern Mexico. In summer north across Canada and Alaska. Native range is Europe to Pakistan, north Africa. 

Often viewed as a pest, starlings often bully other backyard birds, taking over bird feeders, and stealing nest cavities from smaller native birds. 

In winter they can form into flocks of ten’s of thousands.

Food and feeder preference: European Starlings eat primarily insects when available, often feeding on the ground. Discourage them from your backyard hopper and tray feeders by never feeding birds table scraps (including bread or meat). They have weak feet and do not perch well on tube feeders. A cage mesh around smaller hopper feeders may keep them out.

10. Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)

A common and well-known bird in the eastern half of the United States.

Photo of Blue Jay enjoying a bath
Blue Jay. skeeze from Pixabay

Range in South Dakota: Blue Jas are year-round residents throughout South Dakota.

Identification: 

Size: About that of American Robin. 

Shape: Fluffy, large crested head, ample tail. Large strong legs. 

Bill: Black, long and stout. 

Color: Blue above, white below. Black neck collar. White patches in wing.

Habitat, range & behavior: Woodlands and towns in the eastern half of the United States. In summer into southern Canada.  

Bold and brash. May bully smaller birds. Jays gulp lots of seeds or other food at once, storing it in their crop. Then they fly off and bury food items in a hidden cache.

Food and feeder preference: Omnivorous. They can quickly empty your feeder! Because they are also aggressive toward other feeder birds, some people put mesh cages around smaller bird feeders. Small birds can go through, squirrels and larger “pest” birds are prevented entry. Some people feed jays peanuts, perhaps away from the seed feeders.

11. Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens)

This tiny woodpecker is found across the United States.

Photo of Downy Woodpecker on suet block
Downy Woodpecker. Greg Gillson

Range in South Dakota: Downy Woodpeckers are year-round residents throughout South Dakota.

Identification: 

Size: Bigger than a junco or House Finch. Smaller than a Red-winged Blackbird. About the same size as a White-crowned Sparrow, but with a much shorter tail. 

Shape: Stocky with large head and short stiff tail. 

Bill: Short, chisel shaped. 

Color: Black-and-white striped head. Black wings with white spots. Solid white back. White under parts. Black tail with white outer tail feathers with black bars or spots. Male with small red spot at back of head.

Habitat, range & behavior: Found in small deciduous trees, willows, and even weed stocks such as teasel, especially near water. 

Ranges coast-to-coast across all but northernmost parts of Canada and Alaska south to the southern US. Absent in the desert southwest. 

Interestingly, I learned today that the males may more often be found in smaller plants and twigs, while females are more likely on tree trunks.

Food and feeder preference: Insects, fruits, and seeds. Gleans arthropods from the bark of trees. Attract with suet feeder. Will also eat black oil sunflower seeds.

12. Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)

Of all the bird identification questions I get asked, this common larger backyard bird is the bird most people ask about. It doesn’t occur to those unfamiliar with it that this could be a woodpecker.

Photo of Northern Flicker in tree
Northern Flicker. Greg Gillson.

Range in South Dakota: Northern Flickers are year-round residents throughout South Dakota.

Identification: 

Size: About the size of a Mourning Dove. Larger than a robin. 

Shape: Stocky with short legs, short tail, big head. 

Bill: As long as head, thin, slightly curved. 

Color: Back is brown with black bars. Under parts pinkish with black spots. Undersides of black wing and tail feathers are bright salmon red (West) or yellow (East). Head gray (West) or brown (East) and males with red (West) or black (East) whisker marks and nape marks (East). Black crescent across chest. White rump seen in flight.

Habitat, range & behavior: Found in woodland edges and forests. 

Year-round resident from extreme southern Canada, across all of the lower-48 states and in the mountains of Mexico and Middle America. In summer breeds northward well into Canada and Alaska. 

Frequently noted hopping on ground pecking in the ground for insects. In late spring, males proclaim their territory by rapid pounding on a hollow tree branch, though the ringing of metal downspouts at dawn is louder and carries much farther, to the exasperation of anyone trying to sleep inside!

Food and feeder preference: Ants and beetles are their primary foods. Will eat black oil sunflower seeds and are attracted to suet.

13. Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)

These swallows are widely distributed throughout the world, primarily breeding in the northern hemisphere, and wintering in the mid-latitudes and southern hemisphere.

Photo of a Barn Swallow on a barbed wire fence
Barn Swallow. Greg Gillson.

 Range in South Dakota: Barn Swallows are summer residents throughout South Dakota.

Identification: 

Size: About the size of a House Finch but with a much longer tail. 

Shape: Stocky, short necked but with long body and tail. Tail is forked, with very long outer tail feathers. Wings pointed. 

Bill: Short, wide. 

Color: Glossy dark purplish-blue above. Pinkish-orange below. 

Habitat, range & behavior: Barn Swallows live in open country, frequently near humans. Farmlands. Nest in barns, under small bridges. 

In North America breed from Mexico to northern Canada and Alaska, wintering from southern Mexico throughout most of South America. 

Frequently seen swooping low over the ground hunting flying insects. Perch on wires, fences. Voice is twitters and chirps with grating sounds. 

Food and feeder preference: Eat flying insects on the wing and are not attracted to backyard feeders.

14. Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)

Colloquially called “snow birds,” they often arrive in backyards in winter from nearby mountain forests or more northern climes

Photo of Dark-eyed Junco on snow-covered branch
Dark-eyed Junco. skeeze from Pixabay

Range in South Dakota: Dark-eyed Juncos are winter visitors throughout South Dakota.

Identification: 

Size: Small birds about the size of a House Finch. 

Shape: Round body, short neck, round head, fairly long square-ended tail. 

Bill: Short, pointed, conical, pink. 

Color: Eastern birds are a darker all-gray with white belly. Western birds have jet black hood over head, brown back, and pink sides.

Habitat, range & behavior: Breed in coniferous forests. Winters widely. Avoids heavy brush, preferring widely spaced bushes. 

Breeds across most of Canada, Alaska, and the western half of the United States. Winters from southern Canada and all of the lower 48-states to extreme northern Mexico. 

Spend much of their time hopping and feeding on the ground.

Food and feeder preference: Eats mostly seeds, also insects in summer. Readily feed at backyard feeders on mixed seeds on hopper or tray feeders and ground.

You may like my in-depth article on attracting Dark-eyed Juncos.

15. American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)

This larger all-black bird is common in cities and country. Its cawing call is familiar to most people.

Photo of American Crow
American Crow. Greg Gillson.

Range in south Dakota: American Crows are year-round residents throughout South Dakota.

Identification: This is a key species for comparing with an unknown bird. 

Size: About 17-1/2 inches long from bill tip to tail tip, though there is much size variation throughout its range. Larger than blackbirds and grackles. Smaller than ravens. 

Shape: Thick neck, large head, rather short square-ended tail. Longer legs. In flight has rounded wing tips with each primary feather separated from others forming “fingers.” 

Bill: As long as head, thick, black. 

Color: Glossy black throughout.

Habitat, range & behavior: They prefer open areas with trees, fields, farms, cities. 

They are common across most of the United States lower-48, except in the desert southwest. They move into southern Canada in summer. 

They gather in evening communal roosts in large flocks that may number into the thousands and then move out at dawn into the surrounding area.

Food and feeder preference: Omnivorous, American Crows feed on large insects, grain, small mammals, carrion. You probably don’t want these large entirely black birds in your backyard feeders. So don’t feed table scraps to birds.

16. House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)

These are one of the most common backyard birds in the United States. There are other red finches, but these are the ones most likely in residential areas.

Photo of a House Finch in a bird bath
House Finch. Greg Gillson.

Range in South Dakota: House Finches are year-round residents in extreme southeastern and southwestern South Dakota.

Identification: This is a key species for comparing with an unknown bird. 

Size: About 6 inches from bill tip to tail tip. Larger than goldfinches and chickadees. Smaller than a White-crowned Sparrows or Spotted/Eastern towhees. 

Shape: Medium build with a medium-long notched tail. Round head. 

Bill: Short, conical. 

Color: Brown and gray above with streaks on the sides of the pale underparts. Males with red (sometimes orange or rarely yellow) crown, chest, rump.

Habitat, range & behavior: You’ll find small flocks on wires, in short tree tops and in bushes. Originally deserts and grasslands. Rural areas and towns are where they’re now most common. 

Formerly found in the western United States and Mexico. Then introduced into the northeastern United States, but now found in nearly all of the lower-48 states and extreme southern Canada. Rare in plains states (Dakotas to Texas) and southern Florida. 

House Finches are not territorial, but males sing throughout the year–a lively, wiry song ending in a couple of buzzy notes.

Food and feeder preference: House Finches love sunflower seeds and tube feeders. May eat from thistle socks.

You may like my in-depth article on attracting House Finches.

17. White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)

A favorite feeder bird for many for its active antics and fearlessness. Though a small bird it is the largest nuthatch in North America.

Photo of White-breasted Nuthatch head-first down the tree
White-breasted Nuthatch. Greg Gillson

Range in South Dakota: White-breasted Nuthatches are year-round residents throughout South Dakota.

Identification: 

Size: About chickadee-sized in length. Smaller than a junco or House Finch. 

Shape: Appears large-headed, neckless, very short tailed. Short legs. 

Bill: Nearly as long as head, straight, thin. 

Color: Blue-gray above, white below. Black cap, wing tips, tail. Rusty feathers under tail.

Habitat, range & behavior: Common in oak and oak-pine woodlands, wooded towns. 

Found across the United States, southern Canada, mountains of central Mexico. Absent from treeless grasslands, deserts in the west. 

Crawls over tree branches and head-first down tree trunks searching for insects.

Food and feeder preference: Insects, seeds, acorns and other nuts. Love black oil sunflower seeds feeding on hopper and tray feeders. Suet blocks.

18. Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)

Cowbirds are small blackbirds lay their eggs in the nests of other smaller birds, such as warblers. The adoptive parents raise their young!

Photo of Brown-headed Cowbird on stump
Brown-headed Cowbird. Greg Gillson.

Range in South Dakota: Brown-headed Cowbirds are summer residents throughout South Dakota.

Identification: 

Size: Larger than White-crowned Sparrows, but smaller than Rose-breasted or Black-headed Grosbeaks. Smaller than other blackbirds, starlings, and grackles.

Shape: Perhaps a little bit pot-bellied. Medium length tail. Flat forehead as typical for blackbirds.

Bill: Rather thick and stout.

Color: Males are glossy black with rich brown head. Females are dusty gray-brown throughout. Long-held juvenile plumage similar to pale female, scaly, being fed by Yellow Warbler or Song Sparrow or a hundred other host species.

Habitat, range & behavior: They are found in woodlands and farms. Also with other blackbirds in winter at shopping center parking lots.

In summer they breed across Canada and most of the United States and Mexico. In winter they move south out of Canada and occupy both coasts and southeastern States in the US.

These small blackbirds join other flocks of blackbirds in cattle feedlots. You may see cowbirds riding on the backs of cattle, sheep, or horses. They originally rode on the backs of American bison on the Great Plains, but expanded when forests were cut.

Food and feeder preference: Cowbirds eat grains, seeds, and insects. They will readily come to hopper and platform feeders. They are larger and more aggressive, so keep other birds from feeders and have a big appetite!

19. Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina)

Chipping Sparrows are a widespread species adapted to human disturbance. They are rather tame. They are frequently found in cemeteries with large trees.

Photo of a Chipping Sparrow on a white headstone
Chipping Sparrow. Greg Gillson.

Range in South Dakota: Chipping Sparrows are summer residents throughout South Dakota.

Identification: 

Size: These are small sparrows, bigger than goldfinches or chickadees, but smaller than House Finches or Song Sparrows. 

Shape: Plump and fairly long-tailed. 

Bill: Short and conical. 

Color: Striped brown and dark brown above. Grayish under parts. Black line through eye. Crown streaked in winter but in summer becomes solid chestnut. Two white wing bars. 

Habitat, range & behavior: Grassy open conifer woodlands with some shrubs, parks, orchards. 

Breeds from Alaska, across Canada and south into highlands of Middle America. In winter retreats from northern areas to southern United States and northern Mexico. 

In summer solitary or in pairs. In winter they forage in flocks of up to 50 birds. 

Food and feeder preference: Weed seeds, supplemented with insects in summer. They may eat black oil sunflower seeds in your feeder, but more likely will feed on mixed seeds on the ground under the feeder.

20. Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)

A common bird, but variable, and similar to many other streaked brown sparrows.

Photo of Song Sparrow in bush
Song Sparrow. Greg Gillson.

Range in South Dakota: Song Sparrows are summer residents in northeastern South Dakota, year-round residents in southeastern South Dakota, winter visitors in south-central and southwestern South Dakota, absent in northwestern South Dakota.

Identification: 

Size: A smaller bird, similar in size to House Finch and juncos. Larger than chickadees and goldfinches. Smaller than White-crowned Sparrows or Spotted/Eastern towhees. 

Shape: Plump with round head, long rounded tail. 

Bill: Short, conical. 

Color: Highly variable in darkness and color saturation across its range (dark rusty to pale gray). Generally gray-brown above with dark brown streaking on back. Complicated head pattern. Streaking on sides and breast converge into dense central breast spot.

Habitat, range & behavior: Thickets, especially near water. Backyard shrubbery. 

Resident in western United States, western Canada, coastal southern Alaska, northeastern US. In summer also moves into mid-Canada and northern half of US. In the winter found in most of the US lower-48. Also a population in central Mexico.

Forages on ground, never far from low cover to which they fly if startled.

Food and feeder preference: Song Sparrows feed on seeds and insects near the ground. Will visit hopper and tray feeders for mixed bird seed.

21. Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)

These large pale pigeons have only been in the United States since invading Florida in 1983. But they have taken over much of the continent.

Photo of Eurasian Collared-Dove on shepherds hook
Eurasian Collared-Dove. Greg Gillson.

Range in South Dakota: Eurasian Collared-Doves are year-round residents throughout South Dakota.

Identification:

Size: Large pigeon. Larger than Mourning Dove. Same size as domestic pigeon.

Shape: Full plump breast. Round head. Long square tail.

Bill: Small,.

Color: Cream-colored, may be slightly warmer brown on back or, conversely, may be nearly white. Black hind neck mark. Broad white band at end of tail. From underneath when perched on wire, note the black base to the underside of the tail.

Habitat, range & behavior: These pigeons are found in residential areas and farmlands. Look for them perched on electric lines or in trees.

They are year-round residents in residential areas throughout almost all of the United States, except rare in the Northeast.

A pair of birds nest in one area nearly year-round, then build in numbers over a couple of  years. Then several birds from the group fly up to 500 miles and set up a new colony. In this way this species took over much of Europe in the last century, and most of North America, starting from Florida in 1983 (from birds escaped from or vagrant in Bahamas).

Food and feeder preference: Eat grain. Will eat all seeds at bird feeders. Large, hungry, and often visit feeders in groups.

22. Hairy Woodpecker (Dryobates villosus)

Hairy Woodpeckers appear in plumage almost exactly as Downy Woodpeckers. Hairy Woodpeckers are slightly larger with a heavier and longer bill.

Photo of Hairy Woodpecker on tree trunk
Hairy Woodpecker. Greg Gillson.

Range in South Dakota: Hairy Woodpeckers are year-round residents throughout South Dakota.

Identification:

Size: Slightly larger than Downy Woodpecker. Same size as Red-bellied or Acorn Woodpeckers. Much smaller than flickers.

Shape: Stout body. Large head. Short pointed tail. Short legs, large feet. Short rounded wings.

Bill: Slightly shorter than head. Stout. Chisel-shaped.

Color: Wings and upper parts generally black. White back. Black and white lines on face. Under parts white. Male with red spot on nape.

Habitat, range & behavior: They are found on large trees in open or dense forests.

These birds are widespread across North America except for treeless deserts and grasslands.

These birds are almost always found on trunks or heavy branches of large trees, often conifers. This is different from Downy Woodpeckers which are frequently on small branches, weed stalks, willows.

Food and feeder preference: Eat primarily insects. However, they will come to feeders in winter for suet, peanuts, and sunflower seeds from hopper or platform feeders.

23. Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus)

These birds often build nests in trees that overhang streams.

Photo of Eastern Kingbird on weed stalk
Eastern Kingbird. Greg Gillson.

Range in South Dakota: Eastern Kingbirds are summer residents throughout South Dakota.

Size: About the size of a Red-winged Blackbird. Smaller than a robin.

Shape: Fairly sleek. Perches upright with big puffy head, full tail.

Bill: Fairly long, wide at base,

Color: Black head. Black tail with white band at tip. Dark gray upper parts. White under parts.

Habitat, range & behavior: Farms, clearings in woodlands.

Found across Canada and in the United States east from the Rocky Mountains.

These birds perch on fence lines, tips of small trees. Sally out and snatch flying insects and return to perch.

Food and feeder preference: They eat insects and do not come to feeders.

24. House Wren (Troglodytes aedon)

These birds will readily use nest boxes to raise their young.

Photo of House Wren in bush
House Wren. Greg Gillson.

Range in South Dakota: House Wrens are summer residents throughout South Dakota.

Identification:

Size: About the size of Black-capped Chickadee but with shorter tail.

Shape: Round body. Large head. Thin short tail.

Bill: Fairly long, thin, slightly down curved. Sharply pointed.

Color: Rather dull brownish-gray throughout. Paler throat and breast. Tail barred with black and pale bars along with the brown.

Habitat, range & behavior: Brushy areas, woodland edges, hedge rows, tree stumps in logged areas.

Breed across Canada and the northern and mid-latitudes of the United States. Winter to the southern United States and through Mexico. Found year round at southern edge of breeding range: California, North Carolina to northern Alabama, southern Arizona south through mountains of Mexico.

Stay hidden in brushy areas. Hop among tree roots, logged stumps.

Food and feeder preference: May feed at suet feeder.

25. Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota)

These colonial-nesting birds build gourd-shaped mud nests on cliffs, under the eaves of barns, and under highway overpasses. You will most often notice them in flight.

Photo of Cliff Swallow on fence wire
Cliff Swallow. Greg Gillson.

Range in South Dakota: Cliff Swallows are summer residents throughout South Dakota.

Identification:

Size: Small birds, smaller than House Finches, larger than American Goldfinches.

Shape: In flight note round head, short square tail, pointed wings.

Bill: Short, wide.

Color: Dark blue back with pale stripes, dark wings and tail. Pale under parts. Large buff rump patch. Crown dark blue. Throat dark rusty. White forehead.

Habitat, range, and behavior: Fly over open country, canyons, farmlands.

In summer they occur nearly everywhere from Alaska and Canada southward through Mexico. Leave entire region in winter.

Fly high chasing bugs, skimming over ponds, trapping them against cliffs. In spring you may note them at mud puddles scooping up bills full of mud to build their nests. In fall migration more likely to be noted on roadside wires.

Food and feeder preference: Feed on flying insects. Do not occur at feeder.

26. Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis)

You may note these birds aggressively and noisily chasing off other birds, such as crows and hawks, from their territories. And other interloping Western Kingbirds, of course.

Photo of Western Kingbird in tree branches
Western Kingbird. Greg Gillson.

Range in South Dakota: Western Kingbirds are summer residents throughout South Dakota, rare in southeastern South Dakota.

Identification:

Size: Larger than phoebes. Smaller than American Robins. The same size as Red-winged Blackbirds.

Shape: Long body with heavy chest. Large head with raised hind crown. Large bill. Long full tail. Upright posture.

Bill: Fairly long, but shorter than head, stout and wide at the base.

Color: Gray head, back, and chest. Yellow belly. Brown wings. Black tail with contrasting white outer tail feathers.

Habitat, range & behavior: Open country.

Summers in the western half of the United States and adjacent southern Canada.

Perches on electric wires, fence lines. Chases flying insects and returns to perch.

Food and feeder preference: Feeds on flying insects. Does not come to feeders.

Common Birds in South Dakota

To determine how common each species is I used the data from actual bird sightings from the citizen science program eBird. Birds are listed by frequency. That is, how often the species is recorded on checklists submitted to eBird (a percentage).

When choosing the birds to include in this article I leaned strongly to birds that are present throughout the year in good numbers. Thus, many of the common birds are
year-round residents. This means that they live in the same location all year. They raise their young in your neighborhood. They don’t migrate. Or if the species does migrate, the ones living in your area don’t. If this is the case, some migrants may move into your area during certain times of year, adding to the same species that are in your yard full time.

Some migrant birds visit your yard during the “summer.” Often, they arrive in spring and remain until late fall. They nest and raise their young in your neighborhood. These are the summer residents.

Other migrant birds visit your backyard during the “winter.” Some of these winter visitors may arrive in July and remain into April. Others may only be found in the cold of December or January. They key here is that they nest and raise their young somewhere else. They only visit your yard in the non-breeding season.

Migration is an amazing spectacle. There will be birds that fly through your region in spring or fall (or both). They may visit your backyard only a few days or weeks a year. They aren’t regular enough, or stay long enough, to be included in this article. But the number of briefly visiting migrant birds could double the number of species presented here. You may see them over time. Consult checklists in eBird for your county to see what is possible.

I have generally excluded common waterfowl, birds of prey, shorebirds, seabirds, and others that aren’t usually found in residential areas. But they may certainly fly over or be seen regularly if your home is on a shoreline, for instance.

Most common backyard birds in South Dakota throughout the year

The following list is the backyard birds that are, on average, most common throughout the entire year. The list is ordered by most common based on the frequency of how often each species is recorded on checklists submitted to eBird.

  1. American Robin (37% frequency)
  2. Red-winged Blackbird (30%)
  3. Mourning Dove (26%)
  4. Common Grackle (24%)
  5. Black-capped Chickadee (22%)
  6. Western Meadowlark (21%)
  7. American Goldfinch (21%)
  8. House Sparrow (20%)
  9. European Starling (19%)
  10. Blue Jay (18%)
  11. Downy Woodpecker (17%)
  12. Northern Flicker (17%)
  13. Barn Swallow (17%)
  14. Dark-eyed Junco (16%)
  15. American Crow (15%)
  16. House Finch (14%)
  17. White-breasted Nuthatch (13%)
  18. Brown-headed Cowbird (13%)
  19. Chipping Sparrow (13%)
  20. Song Sparrow (13%)

Most common backyard birds in South Dakota in winter

  1. Dark-eyed Junco (32%)
  2. Black-capped Chickadee (29%)
  3. Downy Woodpecker (26%)
  4. House Sparrow (25%)
  5. American Goldfinch (20%)
  6. Blue Jay (19%)
  7. White-breasted Nuthatch (19%)
  8. European Starling (19%)
  9. House Finch (16%)
  10. American Crow (15%)
  11. Eurasian Collared-Dove (14%)
  12. Hairy Woodpecker (15%) 

Most common backyard birds in South Dakota in summer

  1. American Robin (50% frequency)
  2. Red-winged Blackbird (45%)
  3. Mourning Dove (42%)
  4. Common Grackle (36%)
  5. Western Meadowlark (34%)
  6. Barn Swallow (33%)
  7. Brown-headed Cowbird (27%)
  8. Eastern Kingbird (27%)
  9. American Goldfinch (25%)
  10. Chipping Sparrow (22%)
  11. House Wren (21%)
  12. Cliff Swallow (20%)
  13. Northern Flicker (20%)
  14. Black-capped Chickadee (20%)
  15. Song Sparrow (19%)
  16. House Sparrow (18%)
  17. European Starling (15%)
  18. Western Kingbird (15%)
  19. American Crow (14%)

Dark-eyed Juncos, Downy Woodpeckers are more common in winter than in summer in South Dakota.

American Robins, Red-winged Blackbirds, Mourning Doves, Common Grackles, Western Meadowlarks, Barn Swallows, Brown-headed Cowbirds, Eastern Kingbirds, Chipping Sparrows, Cliff Swallow, House Wrens, Western Kingbirds are more common in summer than in winter in South Dakota.

Common Backyard Birds of Pierre, South Dakota

  1. American Robin (48% frequency)
  2. Northern Cardinal (32%)  Learn about this species on eBird
  3. Black-capped Chickadee (31%)
  4. Northern Flicker (31%)
  5. European Starling (30%)
  6. Downy Woodpecker (29%)
  7. White-breasted Nuthatch (29%)
  8. Eurasian Collared-Dove (28%)
  9. Red-winged Blackbird (28%)
  10. Dark-eyed Junco (27%)
  11. American Goldfinch (27%)
  12. Mourning Dove (26%)
  13. Blue Jay (23%)
  14. Red-bellied Woodpecker (22%)  Learn about this species on eBird
  15. Common Grackle (22%)
  16. Hairy Woodpecker (22%)
  17. Cedar Waxwing (18%)  Learn about this species on eBird
  18. House Finch (17%)
  19. Western Meadowlark (17%)

American Robins, Northern Cardinals, Northern Flickers, European Starlings, Downy Woodpeckers, White-breasted Nuthatches, Eurasian Collared-Doves, Dark-eyed Juncos, Red-bellied Woodpeckers are more common in Pierre than the state average for South Dakota.

Common Backyard Birds of Rapid City, South Dakota

  1. American Robin (32% frequency)
  2. Black-capped Chickadee (31%)
  3. House Sparrow (25%)
  4. Red-winged Blackbird (25%)
  5. American Crow (22%)
  6. House Finch (22%)
  7. European Starling (21%)
  8. Eurasian Collared-Dove (21%)
  9. Red-breasted Nuthatch (21%)  Learn about this species on eBird
  10. Blue Jay (21%)
  11. Dark-eyed Junco (20%)
  12. Northern Flicker (19%)
  13. Western Meadowlark (19%)
  14. Mourning Dove (18%)
  15. Rock Pigeon (18%)  Learn about this species on eBird
  16. Common Grackle (17%)

Backyard birds of Rapid City are not too different than the birds of the state of South Dakota, as a whole. Red-breasted Nuthatches are a bit more common here than elsewhere.

Common Backyard Birds of Sioux Falls, South Dakota

  1. American Robin (45% frequency)
  2. Black-capped Chickadee (35%)
  3. House Sparrow (31%)
  4. Common Grackle (30%)
  5. American Goldfinch (28%)
  6. Mourning Dove (28%)
  7. Red-winged Blackbird (28%)
  8. Northern Cardinal (28%)  Learn about this species on eBird
  9. Downy Woodpecker (26%)
  10. European Starling (26%)
  11. House Finch (21%)
  12. American Crow (19%)
  13. Blue Jay (19%)
  14. Barn Swallow (19%)
  15. Dark-eyed Junco (18%)
  16. Song Sparrow (17%)
  17. White-breasted Nuthatch (17%)

Black-capped Chickadees, House Sparrows, Northern Cardinals, Downy Woodpeckers are more common in Sioux Falls than the average for South Dakota.

Wrapping Up

South Dakota has a fantastic reputation for bird watching and there is plenty to see right in your backyard. If you are prepared to venture forth and explore the rural areas of the state, there is plenty to find. Here are some of my state favorites.

Grasslands:

  • Western Meadowlark: State bird, known for its bright yellow vest and melodious song.
  • Ring-necked Pheasant: Introduced for hunting, colorful birds associated with South Dakota’s grasslands.
  • Baird’s Sparrow: Small, well-camouflaged sparrows with sweet songs.
  • Grasshopper Sparrow: Named for its grasshopper-like call, found in tallgrass prairies.
  • Northern Harrier: Soaring hawks with keen eyesight, hunting small mammals in open areas.

Wetlands:

  • Mallard: Versatile ducks abundant in ponds, lakes, and rivers.
  • Blue-winged Teal: Smaller ducks with vibrant plumage, frequenting freshwater marshes and ponds.
  • American Coot: Large, chicken-like birds often mistaken for ducks, common in freshwater marshes and ponds.
  • Great Egret: Elegant, tall white herons stalking the shallows of marshes, swamps, and rivers.
  • Sandhill Crane: Long-legged birds with haunting calls, gracing wetlands and prairies.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the state bird of South Dakota?

The state bird of South Dakota is the Ring-necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus). It was officially designated in 1943.

This colorful bird is native to Asia but was introduced to South Dakota in 1908 and thrived due to the suitable open grassland habitats. They became popular for hunting and their abundance solidified their position as the state bird.

The Ring-necked Pheasant is easily recognizable with its:

  • Distinctive male plumage: Vibrant green head and neck, chestnut body, and iridescent blue and black ring around the neck.
  • Prominent tail feathers: Long, brown with white edges, adding a flash of color in flight.
  • Loud calls: Both sexes have distinct vocalizations, creating a lively presence in South Dakota’s grasslands.

Choosing the Ring-necked Pheasant as the state bird served as a tribute to its cultural and ecological significance in South Dakota. It represents the wide-open plains and grasslands that define the state and is widely celebrated as a symbol of its natural beauty and heritage.

What are some winter birds of South Dakota?

South Dakota, despite its harsh winters, offers a surprising variety of avian life even during the colder months. Here are some common winter birds you might encounter:

Open areas and grasslands:

  • Ring-necked Pheasant: These iconic state birds are still abundant in winter, though flocking together for warmth.
  • Horned Lark: These small, ground-dwelling birds thrive in open fields and prairies, offering their distinctive “tsee-see” call.
  • Snow Bunting: These nomadic finches flock to South Dakota in winter, adding a touch of white with their streaked black and white plumage.
  • American Tree Sparrow: These brown and white sparrows seek shelter in brushy areas and grasslands, readily visiting feeders.
  • Rough-legged Hawk: These large hawks soar over open country, searching for small mammals with their keen eyesight.
             Snow Bunting by Charles J Homler

Forests and woodlands:

  • Black-capped Chickadee: These acrobatic and energetic birds remain active year-round, flitting through trees with their cheery “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” calls.
  • Hairy Woodpecker: These medium-sized woodpeckers continue drumming on trees in search of food, adding their distinctive rhythm to winter forests.
  • Downy Woodpecker: Smaller than the Hairy Woodpecker, these active birds peck on tree trunks and branches for insects and seeds.
  • Blue Jay: Though less common in winter, these bold and intelligent birds can still be spotted in woodlands with mature trees.
  • Northern Flicker: These large woodpeckers with their distinctive yellow chest patch remain active throughout the winter, searching for food in forests and woodlands.

Where can I find Cliff Swallows in South Dakota?

Finding Cliff Swallows in South Dakota can be tricky, as they are not as common as in other parts of their range. However, there are some specific locations where you might have a better chance of spotting them:

Black Hills:

  • Cliff Swallow Trail in Black Hills National Forest: This 3.7-mile loop trail near Beaver Creek features limestone bluffs where Cliff Swallows traditionally nest. Look for their gourd-shaped mud nests under rocky overhangs during the breeding season (May to July).
  • Spearfish Canyon: The dramatic rock formations offer nesting sites for Cliff Swallows, and sightings have been reported near Bridal Veil Falls and Rough Canyon Trail.
  • Wind Cave National Park: The park’s canyons and cliffs attract these swallows, especially near Shelter House Spring and Rankin Ridge Trail.

Other Potential Locations:

  • Badlands National Park: While not as common as in the Black Hills, Cliff Swallows may occasionally nest in the steep cliffs and rock formations within the park.
  • Lake Sharpe: The tall structures near the dam and spillway have attracted nesting Cliff Swallows in the past.
  • Bridges and Overpasses: Throughout the state, keep an eye on bridges and overpasses, especially ones with sheltered areas underneath, as these can be substitute nesting sites for Cliff Swallows.

Related Articles:

34 of the most common birds in the United States (with photos)

Red, Orange, & Yellow Birds of South Dakota

Feeder birds in South Dakota

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