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Animals in South Dakota

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It’s not a question of whether or not there are animals in South Dakota. Rather, it is a question of what type of wildlife there is. South Dakota is one of the native states in the United States with species of various diversities.

Animals in South Dakota are found in different habitats like lakes, rivers, mountains, and grasslands. These habitats support a wide variety of wildlife such as coyotes, bison, prairie animals in the Mississippi river, birds, etc.

Which animals are there in South Dakota? Where are the best views of the animals? Which animals would you rather observe from a safer distance? What are the state bird and the state fish? Well, this article is the article for you!

Tour guides are also available in the national parks and other attraction sites in South Dakota for those who are not as daring.

Background South Dakota State

The state of South Dakota was discovered in 1743 by two French men in search of a route to the Pacific. The state was acquired in 1803 by the U.S as part of the Louisiana Purchase. However, settlement began when gold was discovered in the Black Hills.

South Dakota is in the centre of the country. The beauty and the numerous tourist attraction sites are astonishing. The Black Hills provide the most stunning outdoor experience. In this area, tourists find a lot of attractive things ranging from large monuments to underground caves.

When listing the places to visit in South Dakota, Mount Rushmore cannot be left out. The mountain is a habitat of unique and hard-to-find creatures like the rocky goats and the panthers to name but a few.

The Badland National Park is another breathtaking site in South Dakota. The park has unique pinnacles and hills that resulted from sand and clay erosion. Other than the astonishing sites, Bison is seen to roam the park freely.

Custer State Park is also found in South Dakota. Here, a wide range of different wildlife exists peacefully. The Bison are the main tourist attraction animals in this region. The park has challenging trails to be enjoyed by hikers. The Wildlife Loop Road is another ‘must see’ attraction point in Custer Park. As the animals in this park are mostly active in the morning and late evening, visitors are advised to make a point of availing themselves at this time.

What are animals in South Dakota?

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From the climatic conditions in this area, it is easy to tell the wildlife present in this region. The temperate grassland state is filled with a lot of tree-filled mountains and hills, rivers, and lakes. A variety of different species exist in different climatic condition and geographical location which is divided between semi-arid and humid continental climates.

The national grasslands in South Dakota are three in number, the national forests are two, and the protected National Park Service sites are countless. There are no urban areas in the state which makes it advantageous once it comes to being a habitat of a variety of wildlife. The state fish of the state is the Walleye, the state bird is the ring-necked Chinese pheasant and the official animal is the Coyote. There are other wild animals in this state as well.

Click below to jump to any section on animals in South Dakota:

Mountain Goat

Mountain Lion

American Red Squirrel

Prairie Dog

Bighorn Sheep



Ring-necked Chinese Peasant

American Goldfinch

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Prairie Grouse

Mourning Dove



Mountain Goat

Mountain Goats - animals in South Dakota

As earlier discussed, South Dakota has plenty of hills and mountains which happens to be the habitat of unique wildlife not found elsewhere in the state. The animals in these regions have adapted to the higher elevations and the climatic conditions in the mountains.

As crazy as it sounds, goats are scavenging Mt. Rushmore in the state of South Dakota. Although the mountain goats are not native, they are adapted to the rocky hills of South Dakota. It is believed that the goats in this region are descendants of six escaped goats.

The goats escaped in the 1920s from a zoo in Custer State Park. The best time for checking out these animals is in the mornings when they are seen strolling the side of the mountains.The rocky goats are sure-footed and inhabit the alpine environment of North America.

They have unique climbing abilities and have hooves that are cloven and spread toes to improve their balance. They are powerful creatures and can jump up to 12feet in a single jump. They have long and warm coats and distinctive beards that protect them against the cold climatic condition of South Dakota. During the hot summer weather conditions, the goats shed off these coats as an adaptability mechanism.

The female rocky goats are called nannies and their young ones are known as kids. They move in small herds of about 20 animals for most of the year. The males are known as billies and are usually alone for the better part of the year.

Just like humans, the rocky goats give birth to one or two kids. They feed on mosses, grasses, plants, and all alpine vegetation. Both the males and females have horns and sometimes, during the mating seasons, the males use these horns to fight rivals.

Best place to find Mountain Goats

The primary habitat of the mountain goats is at Mt. Rushmore where they are estimated to be over two hundred goats in the area. The best time for checking out these animals is in the mornings when they are seen strolling the side of the mountains together with other animals in South Dakota. 

Mountain Lion

Mountain Lions - animals in South Dakota

The lions in this region are widely known throughout the continents. They are also known as the panthers, pumas, or cougars. These types of lions are hard to find as they are sneaky and nocturnal. The lions have been estimated to be approximately 300 in number in all of the State’s hills.

Where to find Mountain Lions

The mountain lions are found in the black hills of South Dakota. However, National Gap Analysis has it that pumas can exist elsewhere within the state. The Black Hills are an extension of the Rocky Mountains and are found in west-central South Dakota.

The American Red Squirrel

American Red Squirrel - animals in South Dakota

American red squirrels can be distinguished from the other north American squirrels by their size. Their size is slightly smaller; their overall length from head to the tail is approximately 27-35 cm long. Their behaviour is also different, and their red fur with a white underbelly. They are known as red squirrels in the areas where they are native.

Since their introduction in Newfoundland and Labrador, they have been widely distributed in the province. They are abundant and mostly not of concern throughout their range. They have survived in the area for decades and multiplied with time.

American red squirrels are granivores. They feed on seeds of different fruits such as strawberries but can opportunistically incorporate other types of food into their diet. White spruce seeds comprise 60% of red squirrels’ diet, but they can also feed on spruce needles, buds and mushrooms. When the spruce matures, the red squirrels harvest them, keep storage for the winter, and reproduce next spring.

American red squirrels ovulate spontaneously, whereas females only enter the estrus cycle for one day. The female leaves its territory to announce its ovulation state. During this period, the males in mating chase the female squirrel. The male mates with the female in turns, and eventually, gestation starts.  These animals live in nests commonly constructed in tree branches using grass.

The red squirrels mark their territories; they can only be seen in a group during mating periods and between the mother and the offspring before dispersal when they are chased away to live independently. The juvenile red squirrels must acquire a vacant territory during their first winter for survival. They experience a severe mortality rate at early ages. However, their survival mechanism develops after attaining about three years. 

Places to find American Red Squirrels

American red squirrel can be found in places like the Terra Nova National Park together with other animals found in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Prairie Dogs

Prairie Dogs - animals in South Dakota

The Great Plains, a region in South Dakota State is found between the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River. The animals in this region have adapted to the changing climatic conditions in this area. The weather alternates between hot summers and cold winters. In the summer, the animals search for water and food for a very long distance. The animals in this region are the Bison and the Prairie Dogs.

Although there are five different species of prairie dogs in North America, there is only one common prairie dog in South Dakota known as the black-tailed prairie dog happens to be a distant relative of squirrels. They are compared to dogs because of their mode of communication (shrill barks).

The dogs live in small burrow groups known as the colonies. The dogs are very intelligent to the extent of coming up with different calls for different predators that are different from the calls made once it is safe to be on the outside.

Where to find Prairie Dogs

The best location to view the prairie dogs is at Roberts Prairie Dog Town in South Dakota. The town is found in the badlands. This is the place to be for a breathtaking adventure of a lifetime. You can also find them in the grasslands at the Wind Cave National Park near Bison.

Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn Sheep

They are muscular in size with big horns on their head. They have chocolate brown colour fur on their body. They weighs around 73 – 113 kg and males are more in weight as that of female sheep like males are 159 kg in weight and around 40 inches tall in length from shoulder.

Their eyes are at the forward side of head which provides them good range of vision. They have very good eyesight, hearing capacity, good sense of smell which helps them in finding food and protects them from predators. They are around two species of wild sheep out of these two one is bighorn sheep which is found in North Dakota region who has big large horn on their head.

Another species of wild sheep is known as Dall sheep which is also a wild sheep. Some research says that bighorn sheep are one species from the other three subspecies of wild sheep like Rocky Mountain big horn sheep, Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep, California big horn sheep. Males have large and curved shaped horns which are 14kg in weight.

Sheep that are older in age have more massive horns which can grow 0.9 meter in length with a circumference from the base are around 0.3 meter. Female sheep have short horns. Males are known as rams and females are also known as ewes and they both users their horns for eating food, fighting with other animals.

They are not agile in nature but they are very good in climbing which helps them from their predators. In summer season they used to eat clover, sedges, and grasses. And in winter season they eat woody plants like sage, willow. They can also eat cactus when they are in desert areas.

Their stomach is dived into four sections which helps them in good digestion of food and chewing the food. Due to this they have good capacity to absorb large amount of water and that can helps them in surviving without water for long time.

Males usually prefer to live alone as compared to live in groups of females and new growing sheep.New growing sheep live with their mother and groups followed by older ewe. They can live up to a life span of 10 years but it can vary as per the climate and environment changes like female sheep can live up to 15 years based on the population, area, surroundings and male sheep can live beyond 10 years of life span.

Where to find Big Horn Sheep

They are found in west mountain region of North Dakota. They majorly lives in mountain regions so can be easily found in areas where there are mountains alongside other creatures in South Dakota.

Big horns are prey to large number of animals so they can easily found in grassland areas in summer season and in winter season they can found in sheltered valley alongside other animals in North Dakota. They are found at steep Badland regions along with Little Missouri River.


Antelope - animals in South Dakota

Antelopes have adjusted to a wide range of biological specialties thus shift in their size, shape, movement, diet, social association, and anti-predator technique. Regardless of the variety of variations, one significant speculation can be made. There is an obvious distinction between gazelles of shut natural surroundings and those of open environments. The previous (e.g., duikers, reedbucks, and bushbucks) are for the most part little to medium-sized creatures adjusted for development through undergrowth, with overdeveloped rump, an adjusted back, and short legs.

This conformity is adjusted to speedy beginnings and a jumping, evading run, which is the way cover-subordinate impalas whose first line of safeguard is camouflage attempt to get away from hunters that opportunity to track down them. These animals in Nevada have a tinge covering. They are lone, residing alone or in mated matches on home reaches shielded as domains.

They are programs of foliage as opposed to slow eaters of grass. Paradoxically, pronghorns of open territories are for the most part medium to huge grass eaters. They are worked for speed, having level backs with long, similarly created appendages. Their shading is uncovering. They have a gregarious social association and a mating framework in view of male territoriality.

Elands represent more than 66% of the roughly 135 types of empty horned ruminants (cud chewers) in the family Bovidae, which additionally incorporates steers, sheep, and goats. One gazelle, the Indian blackbuck, bears the Latin name Antilope cervicapra. In any case, pronghorn is certifiably not a scientific classification yet a catchall term for a shocking assortment of ruminating ungulates going in size from the minute regal impala to the Goliath eland (800 kg)

The North American pronghorn eland looks and acts similar as a gazelle yet has a place in a different family, the Antilocapridae. Africa, for certain 71 species, is the landmass of elands. Just 14 species occupy the whole landmass of Asia, and everything except three of them are individuals from the gazelle clan.

As in all of Bovidae, all male elands have horns, which range from the short spikes of duikers to the wine tool horns (in excess of 160 cm [63 inches] long) of the more noteworthy kudu. 66% of female gazelles bear horns; they are perpetually more slender and generally more limited than those of the male.

Where to find Antelope in South Dakota. 

Antelopes are found living in grasslands, wooded areas and also in areas with heavy vegetation.



In the late 1980s, the Bison were also extinct due to overhunting in North America. Recently, they are found in large herds roaming the national parks in South Dakota; Badlands National Park, Wind Cave National Park, and the Custer State Park. The bison are very comfortable in Custer State Park and have become accustomed to cars frequently bringing in tourists.

Bison are usually confused with Buffalos. Just to make it clear, a bison is not a buffalo. They both have large bodies, horns and are ox-like but are two different creatures. The buffalos are native to Africa and Asia nations and the bison are native to North America and Europe.

Where to find Bison

The Bison can be found in the Badlands National Park, Custer State Park, and Wind Cave National Park. The Bison are common along the Wildlife Loop Road in Custer State Park. The drivers are already used to sitting in traffic jams caused by the animals carelessly crossing the roads afraid of the moving vehicles.

In the badlands, the Bison van is seen roaming the northern edge of the park near Sage Creek Rim Road. They are also found in the grasslands of the Wind Cave Park near the prairie dogs and forest edges nearby other animals in South Dakota.

Ring-Necked Chinese Pheasant

Ring-Necked Chinese Pheasant - animals in South Dakota

As earlier the ring-necked Chinese pheasant is the official bird of the South Dakota State. These birds are rarely found in other places around the wetlands of South Dakota

The Chinese ring-necked pheasant birds are the state official birds of South Dakota. They are also native to Asia although they are considered a game species.

South Dakota is their main and perfect habitat due to the availability of a lot of food to eat and abundant grasslands. The male pheasants are called the rooster. They are brightly coloured with green, red, and orange shades. The females are called hens and are brown and tan.

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

There are no birds as colorful as the male American Goldfinches especially in the warm months in South Dakota. They have bright yellow backs, medium-sized black tails with long black wings. The female differs as they have a much dull coloration as compared to the male.

However, both the male and the female adopt a brown plumage. They prefer to have the overgrown and weedy areas as their habitats. They can also be found in orchards, backyards, and parks. These are definitely worthy mentions in our list of animals in South Dakota.

Prairie Grouse

Prairie Grouse

Prairie grouse is a collective name used for prairie chicken and sharp-tailed grouse. The native birds are closely related and are found in the prairie landscapes in Western and Central South Dakota.

Hunting of these birds usually occurs in the grasslands and can also occur in the field edges and the cropland. The birds are most often found in covey that increases throughout the seasons.


Waterfowls are birds found in South Dakota and are also known as Anseriformes. They exist in three different families i.e. the Anhimidae, Anatidae, and Anseranatidae. The largest family is the Anatidae in which the waterfowls, ducks, swans, and geese fall.

Dakota is the perfect habitat for these birds, geese, ducks, and other birds that are addicted to water. To the east of South Dakota is the Prairie Pothole Region surrounded by large amounts of ponds and sloughs which make a good nursery for godlings and ducks.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

The Red-bellied WoodpeckerThe red-bellied woodpeckers are pretty birds with zebra-like stripes that are found on the mount tops of South Dakota. They have red spots on their tummies and hence the name ‘red-bellied woodpecker’.  The birds prefer hardwoods like the hickory and oak trees. Their love for peanuts, suet, and fruits is undeniable.

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

The mourning doves have a light brown or gray coloration on their backs. The wing is large and broad and the tails are long and pointed.  Mourning doves are unique and prefer shallow woods, farms, and parks. When roaming the city, don’t be surprised to come across a dove or two. Their main diet is corns, nyjer thistle, and white proso millet.


Walleyes - animals in South Dakota

Walleyes are also called yellow pickerel or yellow pike. Walleyes are common fish in the Missouri River in South Dakota. These fish have a large lifespan of up to 20 years and can travel over a very long distance in a night to find food. The diet is limited to small insects, crustaceans, and other small fish.



The best location to find a paddlefish is in the open waters which flows freely and unchanneled rivers. The paddlefish is the oldest and the weirdest fish in South Dakota’s lakes. These fish have had minimal to no evaluation for over a 125million years.

They use signals called rostrum to paddle and their food is plankton. The signals are electric. Their tail is divided unequally and they have no scales or teeth and this is why they are considered weird. Their bodies are tubular-shaped and the paddles are large and shaped like a snout.

In Gavin’s dam, a limited number of licenses is given to both residents and non-residents to snag a few fish. In Lk. Francis Case limited license is given to only the residents.

Summary of animals in South Dakota

South Dakota is probably the best place to visit. Other than the astonishing and unique animals in the state, there are also monuments and other incredible sites worth seeing. If you enjoyed reading about the animals in South Dakota, check out Animals in North Dakota and Animals in Kansas next! You might also like Animals in Louisiana.

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