The 29 MOST Common Animals in South Dakota! (2023)
What are the most common types of animals found in South Dakota?
This question is hard to answer because of the vast number of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish found here!
As you can imagine, there was no way to include every animal in the below article. So instead, I tried to focus on the creatures that are most regularly seen and observed.
29 COMMON ANIMALS IN South Dakota:
#1. White-Tailed Deer
- Odocoileus virginianus
- Adults range from 63 to 87 inches long and stand between 31 and 39 inches tall at the shoulder.
- Their coloring is tan or brown during the summer and grayish in winter, with white on the throat, chest, and underside of the tail.
- The males have antlers which they shed in the winter.
White-tailed Deer are found in various habitats in South Dakota.
These large animals are common to see living near people as they are completely comfortable in suburban environments. The herd in my neighborhood is particularly fond of our bird feeders. They stop by for a snack almost every evening!
There aren’t many things cuter than a baby deer! The fawns are born with white spots and are able to walk almost right away. The does may leave the fawns to forage for hours at a time.
While their mother is away, the fawns lay flat on the ground with their necks outstretched and are well camouflaged. The female deer always come back to the baby, so make sure not to disturb the fawn if you find one!
#2. Fox Squirrel
- Sciurus niger
- Adults are 17.7 – 27.6 inches (45 – 70 cm) long.
- They have gray-brown fur on the back and orange bellies.
- This species has bushy tails, rounded ears, and large black eyes.
Fox Squirrels are the largest tree squirrel in South Dakota.
These small mammals can adapt to many different habitats. However, they are most often found in small patches of deciduous forests that include trees that produce their favorite foods, which are acorns, walnuts, pecans, and hickory nuts. To prepare for winter, they hide caches of these nuts all over the place to be eaten later when the weather turns cold.
In addition, Fox Squirrels thrive living around people. Consequently, they are commonly found in urban parks and neighborhoods.
Fox Squirrel Range Map
You will likely see Fox Squirrels foraging on the ground, as they spend much of their time there. But don’t let this fact fool you since they are still skilled climbers. In addition to scaling trees, they will easily climb a bird feeder pole to access birdseed. 🙂
#3. Mule Deer
- Odocoileus hemionus
- Adults are 4.5 to 7 feet in length and weigh between 130 and 280 pounds.
- Their coloring is tan to brown in summer and brownish-gray in winter, with a light gray face and distinctive black mask.
- They have large ears and white tails that are black at the tip, and males have branched antlers.
Mule Deer, named for their big, mule-like ears, are iconic mammals in South Dakota. They’re found in rocky, arid environments and thrive in areas with a mix of early-stage plant growth and diverse shrubs.
This species feeds on trees and shrubs rather than grasses. Unlike cattle and Elk, which eat large quantities of plant materials with relatively low nutritional value, Mule Deer are selective. They prefer to feed only on high-quality young plants to thrive.
Mule Deer are social animals. Females tend to stay in multi-generational family groups. Bucks leave the family group after a year and are solitary or travel in small groups with other bucks. Family groups sometimes join to form a larger herd for greater protection in the winter.
- Procyon lotor
- Adults are about 3 feet long and weigh between 15 and 40 pounds, though some males grow to over 60 pounds.
- Their fur is grayish-brown with 4 to 6 black rings on the tail and a black “mask” marking around the eyes.
- They have bushy tails and paws with five long, finger-like toes.
Raccoons are definitely one of the most common animals in South Dakota!
Due to their ability to adapt to humans, Raccoons have an extensive range and are found in forests, wetlands, suburbs, parks, and cities. They generally avoid large open areas and thrive in areas with water sources, abundant food, and den sites. They make dens in rock crevices, hollow trees or logs, burrows, caves, mines, old buildings, rain sewers, or other cavities for winter shelter and birth.
As opportunistic omnivores, Raccoons will eat both plant material and animals. They feed on practically anything they can fit in their mouths. Interestingly, in areas where food is abundant individual raccoons have been known to develop specific food preferences.
Raccoons in urban locations are often larger than those in unpopulated areas because they have adapted to live on human hand-outs, pet food, and trash. They also generally have the benefit of fewer predators.
The second part of the Raccoon’s Latin name, “lotor,” translates to “washer,” referring to a unique behavior they exhibit. They often pick up food items and rub them with their paws, sometimes removing unwanted parts. This gives the appearance that they’re washing their food.
Lastly, they have REALLY cute babies. 🙂
#5. Eastern Cottontail
- Sylvilagus floridanus
- Adults are about 16.5 inches long and weigh up to 3 pounds.
- Their coloring is reddish-brown on the upper body with white on the underparts and tail.
- They have distinctive, large eyes and a round, fluffy tail.
These small mammals are vulnerable to many predators in South Dakota, so they require a habitat with good cover. Areas with a mix of grasses, dense shrub thickets, blackberry bushes, and brush piles are ideal. Well-drained fields with dense grass cover are often used for nesting.
One of their favorite places to nest is suburban yards! So, if you notice Eastern Cottontails hanging around your property, be careful when you mow your lawn. Although rabbit nests are usually slightly below ground level, lawn equipment is still dangerous for baby rabbits and mothers.
Eastern Cottontails consume a wide range of plant materials. They can be a nuisance for gardeners by eating garden plants and flowers. However, in winter, they eat woody materials from birch, oak, dogwood, sumac, and maple trees.
If threatened, Eastern Cottontails either freeze or flush. When they flush, they will run to cover in a zig-zag pattern reaching speeds up to 18 miles per hour. If grabbed, they may give a loud distress cry to startle a predator into releasing them.
- Canis latrans
- Adults range in length from 3 to 4.5 feet and weigh between 15 and 44 pounds.
- Their coloring is grayish to yellow-brown on top with white underparts.
- They have a bushy tail, large, triangular ears, narrow muzzle, black nose, and yellow eyes.
Coyotes have a large range in North America and are found in various habitats, from the tropics to the tundra. Coyotes expanded their range after the near extermination of wolves and cougars by European settlers.
As with habitat, Coyotes are highly versatile in their food selection. Despite being primarily carnivorous, they consume various plants, including berries, grass, and food crops. They will eat almost anything, and this extensive menu allows them to thrive in nearly every environment in South Dakota!
Even if you haven’t seen one, you’ve probably heard a Coyote before! They’re extremely vocal and communicate through howls, yips, whines, and barks. These vocalizations are used to warn pack mates of danger, greet each other, and play.
Sadly, Coyotes are commonly hunted and trapped for fur and sport.
#7. Virginia Opossum
- Didelphis virginiana
- Adults measure 13 to 37 inches in length.
- Their fur is whitish underneath and dull grayish-brown on top though it varies throughout their range.
- They have white faces, long, hairless tails, and feet with opposable thumbs.
The Virginia Opossum is the only marsupial in South Dakota!
They occupy various habitats but generally prefer forests and thickets near a source of water. This species adapts well to human presence, so you’re likely to find them in rural, suburban, and urban environments, including your yard.
Virginia Opossums provide an important service to humans! Insects, including ticks, are a staple food for opossums. They’re incredibly good at grooming and eat 95% of ticks that try to feed on them, up to 5,000 ticks in a single season. So, the next time you’re worried that an opossum is roaming your yard, remember they reduce your chances of tickborne illness.
This species is known to play dead or “play possum,” a unique tactic they’ve become known for. They go into a catatonic state, drool, and exude a noxious substance from their anal glands, feigning death.
As marsupials, Opossums give birth to relatively undeveloped young, which they carry in a pouch on their belly until they’re more developed. The young opossums are only about the size of a kidney bean, but they crawl into the pouch without assistance. Even though litters can be made up of 25 babies, only a small percentage survive.
- Lynx rufus
- Adults weigh 15 to 35 pounds, stand 18 to 24 inches tall, and measure 28 to 47 inches in length.
- Their coloring is buff to brown, sometimes with a reddish tint, and black and brown spots and stripes.
- They have facial ruffs, ear tufts, white spots, and short, bobbed tails.
Even though they’re one of the most common animals in South Dakota, you’ll likely never see a Bobcat.
They’re solitary, elusive, and shy mammals that are rarely seen. They are highly adaptable and found in various habitats. They may be seen in residential areas. However, they generally avoid extensively cleared agricultural lands.
As carnivores, Bobcats are highly skilled hunters. They can climb, run up to 30 miles per hour, and leap high enough to grab low-flying birds. They patiently stalk their prey until they are close enough to pounce.
The largest threat to Bobcat populations is habitat fragmentation due to their large home ranges and elusive nature. However, rodenticides can also cause issues in populations when they feed on contaminated prey.
#9. Striped Skunk
- Mephitis mephitis
- Adults range from 18 to 32 inches long.
- Their coloring is black with two thick white stripes running down the back and tail and a thin white stripe from snout to forehead.
- They have a bushy black tail, small triangular heads, short ears, and black eyes.
Striped Skunks have perhaps the worst reputation of any animal in South Dakota.
They’re best known for their unusual defense system. When threatened, a Striped Skunk will first stomp its feet or handstand as a warning. If these aren’t heeded, the skunk bends its hindquarters to face the animal and releases its defensive smelly spray. The unpleasant, oily liquid can reach up to 20 feet and may cause nausea, intense pain, and temporary blindness.
Despite their foul odor, Striped Skunks provide benefits to humans in the form of pest control. In the summer, they’re largely insectivorous and feed heavily on grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, and bees. The best thing to do if you see a skunk is to give it space. They usually move on quickly when they notice humans!
Striped Skunks have stable and abundant populations. However, some local populations have been affected by rabies outbreaks. In addition, Striped Skunks face threats from severe weather, chemical exposure, and vehicle collisions.
These small mammals are typically very common in suburban areas but are rarely seen because they are nocturnal. As seen below, they often visit bird feeders to eat leftover seeds on the ground!
- Anas platyrhynchos
- Males have a bright green head, thin white collar, dark reddish-brown chest, yellow bill, and a black butt with a white-tipped tail.
- Females are mottled brown with orange and brown bills.
- Both sexes have purple-blue secondary feathers on their wing, which is most visible when they are standing or flying.
My guess is that almost everyone is familiar with the Mallard. These ducks are definitely one of the most recognizable animals in South Dakota!
Mallard Range Map
Mallards are extremely comfortable around people, which is why these adaptable ducks are so widespread. They are found in virtually any wetland habitat, no matter where it’s located. We even find Mallards in our swimming pool every summer and have to chase them away, so they don’t make a mess on our deck! 🙂
Mallards readily accept artificial structures built for them by humans. If you have a nice pond or a marsh, feel free to put up a homemade nesting area to enjoy some adorable ducklings walking around your property! Just make sure you put up predator guards so predators can’t get to the eggs.
When you think of a duck quacking, it is almost inevitably a female Mallard. If there is a better duck sound, we haven’t heard it! Interestingly, males do not quack like females but instead make a raspy call.
#11. American Robin
- Turdus migratorius
- A beautiful thrush that features a rusty red breast and a dark head and back.
- Look for a white throat and white splotches around the eyes.
- Both sexes are similar, except that females appear paler.
American Robins are one of the most familiar animals in South Dakota!
They inhabit a wide variety of habitats and naturally are found everywhere, from forests to the tundra. But these thrushes are comfortable around people and are common to see in backyards.
American Robin Range Map
Even though they are abundant, American Robins rarely visit bird feeders because they don’t eat seeds. Instead, their diet consists of invertebrates (worms, insects, snails) and fruit. For example, I see robins frequently in my backyard, pulling up earthworms in the grass!
These birds also commonly nest near people. Look for an open cup-shaped nest that has 3-5 beautiful, distinctive sky blue color eggs.
American Robins sing a string of clear whistles, which is a familiar sound in spring. (Listen below)
Many people describe the sound as sounding like the bird is saying “cheerily, cheer up, cheer up, cheerily, cheer up.”
#12. Red-tailed Hawk
- Buteo jamaicensis
- Adults are 18-26 in (45-65 cm) tall with a wingspan of 43-55 in (110-140 cm).
- They are dark brown over the back and wings, with white feathers underneath and a reddish tail.
- Their beaks and legs are yellow.
Red-tailed Hawks are one of the most common birds of prey in South Dakota!
These raptors are often seen on long drives in the countryside, soaring in the sky, or perched on a fence post. The color of a Red-tailed Hawk’s plumage can be anything from nearly white to virtually black, so coloration is not a reliable indicator. The best way to identify them is by looking for their characteristic red tail. 🙂
Red-tailed Hawk Range Map
These hawks are highly adaptable, and there is no real description of their preferred habitats because they seem to be comfortable everywhere. I have seen Red-tailed Hawks in numerous places, from the deep backcountry in Yellowstone National Park to urban cities to my own suburban backyard! Pick a habitat, such as pastures, parks, deserts, roadsides, rainforests, woodlands, fields, or scrublands, and you’ll find them thriving.
Red-tailed Hawks have impressive calls that are easily identified.
In fact, people are so enamored with their screams it’s common for directors to use the sounds of a Red-tailed Hawk to replace Bald Eagles that appear in movies. In case you have never heard one, Bald Eagles don’t make sounds that live up to their appearance (putting it nicely!)
#13. Canada Goose
- Branta canadensis
- Large goose with a long black neck and a distinctive white cheek patch.
- Brown body with a pale white chest and underparts.
- Black feet and legs.
Canada Geese are extremely common animals in South Dakota.
I’m sure you probably recognize these birds, as they are very comfortable living around people and human development. Look for them wherever there are grasses or grains to eat, such as lawns, parks, farm fields, and golf courses. I know I have been guilty of stepping in their “droppings” at least a few times in my own backyard as they come to eat corn from my feeding station. 🙂
Canada Goose Range Map
In fact, these geese are now so abundant many people consider them pests for the amount of waste they produce! If you have a manicured lawn that is maintained all the way to the water’s edge, you have an open invitation for these birds to visit.
The Canada Goose is also easy to identify while flying overhead. If you see a flock of large birds in a V-formation, then it’s most likely them. Flying this way helps conserve energy, and different birds take turns leading the way.
Canada Geese are often heard in South Dakota.
Listen for a wide variety of loud honks and cackles. Listen above! I have even been hissed at by them for accidentally approaching a nest too closely.
Interestingly, these geese can live a long time! Their lifespan ranges from 10 to 24 years, but one individual banded in 1969 was found again in 2001, 32 years later!
#14. Mourning Dove
- Zenaida macroura
- A mostly grayish dove with large black spots on the wings and a long thin tail.
- Look for pinkish legs, a black bill, and a distinctive blue eye-ring.
- Males and females look the same.
The Mourning Dove is one of the most common birds in South Dakota.
Look for them perched high up in trees or on a telephone wire near your home. They are also commonly seen on the ground, which is where they do most of their feeding.
Mourning Dove Range Map
Mourning Doves are common visitors to bird feeding stations!
To attract them, try putting out their favorite foods, which include millet, shelled sunflower seeds, Nyjer seeds, cracked corn, and safflower. Mourning Doves need a flat place to feed, so the best feeders for them are trays or platforms. They are probably most comfortable feeding on the ground, so make sure to throw a bunch of food there too.
It’s common to hear Mourning Doves in South Dakota. Listen for a low “coo-ah, coo, coo, coo.” In fact, this mournful sound is how the dove got its name! Many people commonly mistake this sound for an owl. (Press PLAY below!)
#15. House Finch
- Haemorhous mexicanus
- Adult males are rosy red around their heads and upper breasts. They have brown streaks on their back, tail, and belly.
- Females are brown with streaks on their back, tail, and belly.
- Both sexes have conical beaks designed to eat seeds and notched tails.
House Finches are prevalent in South Dakota near people. Look for them around buildings, backyards, parks, and other urban and suburban areas.
House Finch Range Map
House Finches are often the first birds to discover new bird feeders. These birds are intensely curious and rarely travel alone, so their arrival often helps other birds find your feeders too! I see them eating sunflower seed, Nyjer seed, and safflower the most in my backyard.
House Finches have a pleasant and enjoyable song, which can be heard year-round. Listen below to a series of jumbled, warbled notes.
#16. Red-winged Blackbird
- Agelaius phoeniceus
- Males are all black, except for a bright red and yellow patch on their shoulders.
- Females are brown and heavily streaked. There is a bit of yellow around their bill.
- Both sexes have a conical bill and are commonly seen sitting on cattails or perched high in a tree overlooking their territory.
During the breeding season, these birds are almost exclusively found in marshes and other wet areas. Females build nests in between dense grass-like vegetation, such as cattails, sedges, and bulrushes. Males aggressively defend the nest against intruders, and I have even been attacked by Red-winged Blackbirds while walking near the swamp in my backyard!
- RELATED: 10 LIVE Bird Feeder Cams From Around the World [Including MINE!]
Red-winged Blackbird Range Map
When it’s the nonbreeding season, Red-winged Blackbirds spend much of their time in grasslands, farm fields, and pastures looking for weedy seeds to eat. It’s common for them to be found in large flocks that feature various other blackbird species, such as grackles, cowbirds, and starlings.
If you visit a wetland or marsh in spring, you are almost guaranteed to hear males singing and displaying, trying to attract a mate. Listen for a rich, musical song that lasts about one second and sounds like “conk-la-ree!“ (Press PLAY below)
#17. Yellow-Rumped Warbler
- Setophaga coronata
- Adults are 4.7 to 5.5 inches long and weigh 12 to 13 grams.
- Gray, with white wing bars and black on the chest. Patches on the rump and under the wings are yellow.
Yellow-Rumped Warblers are named for the bright yellow patch above their tails.
There are two subspecies of this warbler in South Dakota. They are closely related but can be distinguished by their throat patch, which is yellow in Audubon’s Warblers and white in Myrtle Warblers.
They are an active species known for catching insects in midair. During winter, they visit feeders with sunflower seeds, raisins, suet, and peanut butter. They also eat winter berries.
Yellow-Rumped Warblers are the most versatile foragers of all warblers in South Dakota.
They often search for food in trees but will venture to the ground to forage in leaf debris, and they’ve been known to pick through seaweed in coastal areas!
Listen for the Yellow-Rumped Warbler’s loud, clear song, which sounds like “tsee-tsee-TSEE-TSEE-tsee.” It starts soft at the beginning, gets louder in the middle, and then ends quietly.
#18. Turkey Vulture
- Cathartes aura
- Adults are 25-32 in (64-81 cm) tall, with a wingspan of 63-72 in (160-183 cm).
- They are black, with some lighter gray feathers under the wings.
- Their featherless faces and legs are bright red.
The Turkey Vulture is easy to identify in South Dakota, as they are all black, with a bald red head and a pinkish bill. The name derives from their loose resemblance to a Wild Turkey.
Once you know what to look for, it’s easy to spot these vultures while they are flying. Look for a large raptor soaring in the sky making wobbly circles, whose wings are raised high enough to look like the letter “V.” It’s thought that this flying style helps them glide at low altitudes, which keeps them close to the ground to smell for food.
Turkey Vulture Range Map
Turkey Vultures can be found wherever there are dead animals.
These birds of prey use their highly developed sense of smell to locate carrion. Their sense of smell is so sensitive that they can detect dead meat from 8 miles (13 km) away. These birds actually prefer to eat fresh food, and they try to get to animals as quickly as possible after their death.
As you can imagine, they are often seen along roadsides eating animals that have been hit by cars. They are also frequently observed soaring the skies in the open countryside. When these raptors are frightened, they can be so full of meat that they cannot rapidly fly away. In this case, you may see them projectile vomit what they’ve eaten to lose weight and escape.
#19. Bald Eagle
- Haliaeetus leucocephalus
- Adults are 28-40 in (70-102 cm) tall, with a wingspan of 71-91 in (1.8-2.3 m).
- They are dark brown on the body with pure white feathers on the head and tail.
- Their legs and beaks are bright yellow.
The Bald Eagle is probably the most recognizable bird in South Dakota!
But did you know that the “Bald” portion of their name has nothing to do with not having feathers on their head? As you can clearly see, these eagles have white feathers covering their entire face with no bald spots anywhere. Their name actually stems from an Old English word “piebald,” which means “white patch” and refers to their bright white heads.
While almost everyone knows what a full-grown Bald Eagle looks like, trying to correctly identify juvenile birds is tricky. These eagles don’t get their characteristic white head and dark brown body until they are FIVE YEARS OLD. Until then, these birds have all sorts of different plumages and streaky browns and whites on their bodies. Even their beak changes color! It takes A LOT of practice and experience to identify young Bald Eagles properly!
Bald Eagle Range Map
They are most commonly seen around bodies of water. The reason for this is that they mostly eat fish! Look for them around marshes, lakes, coasts, and rivers. The BEST areas are forests near large bodies of water that provide good fishing AND tall trees for nesting sites.
The Bald Eagle probably doesn’t sound like what you think. If you imagine an intimidating eagle call, then you would be wrong. I think they sound more like a gull, with trills and little whistles. In fact, movie directors are so unimpressed with the sounds a Bald Eagle makes, it’s common for them to use the call of a Red-tailed Hawk instead for dramatic effect!
Press PLAY above to hear a Bald Eagle!
#20. Downy Woodpecker
- Dryobates pubescens
- These woodpeckers have a short bill and are relatively small.
- Color-wise, they have white bellies, with a mostly black back that features streaks and spots of white.
- Male birds have a distinctive red spot on the back of their head, which females lack.
Downy Woodpeckers are one of the most common birds in South Dakota! You probably recognize them, as they are often seen visiting backyards.
Downy Woodpecker Range Map
Luckily, this woodpecker species is easy to attract to your backyard. The best foods to use are suet, sunflower seeds, and peanuts (including peanut butter). You may even spot them drinking sugar water from your hummingbird feeders! If you use suet products, make sure to use a specialized suet bird feeder.
Once you know what to listen for, my guess is that you will start hearing Downy Woodpeckers everywhere you go. Their calls resemble a high-pitched whinnying sound that descends in pitch towards the end. Press PLAY above to hear a Downy Woodpecker!
#21. Northern Cardinal
- Cardinalis cardinalis
- Males are a stunning red with a black mask and throat.
- Females are pale orangish-brown with red on their crest, wings, and tail.
- Both sexes have a crest on their head and a short, thick bill that is perfect for cracking seeds.
Northern Cardinal Range Map
Without a doubt, the Northern Cardinal is one of the most popular birds at backyard feeding stations. They are not only beautifully colored, but they are incredibly common in South Dakota!
In this video, you can see both male and female cardinals. If you look closely, you can even see a juvenile!
Here are my three favorite ways to attract cardinals to my backyard:
- Supply their favorite foods, which include sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, corn, and peanuts.
- Use bird feeders that are easy for them to use, such as trays and hoppers.
- Keep a fresh supply of water available in a birdbath.
And with a little practice, it’s easy to identify Northern Cardinals by their songs and sounds. Interestingly, unlike most other songbirds in South Dakota, even females sing.
- The most common song you will probably hear is a series of clear whistled melodies that sound like the bird is saying “birdie-birdie-birdie” or “cheer-cheer-cheer.” (Listen below!)
#22. Blue Jay
- Cyanocitta cristata
- Backs are covered in beautiful blue feathers with black bars throughout. The underparts are white.
- Their head is surrounded by a black necklace and has a blue crest on top.
- Males and females look the same.
Some people dislike Blue Jays, but I love their bold personalities. Their high intelligence makes these birds interesting to observe, not to mention their plumage is stunning.
Blue Jay Range Map
Typically they visit the feeders noisily, fit as much food as possible in their throat sacks, and leave quickly to cache their bounty. My favorite foods to use are whole peanuts, as Blue Jays are one of the only birds that can crack open the shells to access the inside! You can also use sunflower seeds and corn to attract them.
Blue Jays are one of the noisier backyard birds in South Dakota. The most common vocalization that I hear is their alarm call, which sounds like it’s saying “jeer.”
These birds are also excellent mimics and frequently imitate hawks. They are so good it’s hard to tell the difference between which bird is present. It’s thought that jays do this to deceive other birds into believing a hawk is actually present. Not a bad plan if you want to get a bird feeder all to yourself!
#23. American Crow
- Corvus brachyrhynchos
- A large bird that is entirely black with an iridescent sheen.
- Long black bill, black legs, and black feet.
American Crows are adaptable birds and are common in almost every habitat. The list of places they can be found includes woodlands, fields, rivers, marshes, farms, parks, landfills, golf courses, cemeteries, and neighborhoods.
American Crow Range Map
Believe it or not, American Crows are one of the smartest birds in South Dakota.
For example, they can use tools, solve problems, and recognize human faces. It seems that crows even do things just for fun! Seriously, if you search the internet, it’s easy to find videos of them using round objects to sled down roofs.
American Crows have a large vocabulary. Listen for any number of caws, rattles, cackles, and clicks. The most common sound is a “caw-caw.” (Listen below)
#24. Great Horned Owl
- Bubo virginianus
These raptors are quite large and look fierce! To identify them, look for their long tufts of feathers that resemble ears on their head. Also, check out their intimidating eyes. I know I would not want to have a staring contest with one!
Great Horned Owl Range Map
Great Horned Owls are widespread in South Dakota.
Interestingly, a Great Horned Owls’ sense of smell is so weak that they even attack and eat skunks. It’s not uncommon for them, along with their nests and pellets, to smell of skunk.
Both sexes hoot, but males are lower-pitched than females. Males give territorial calls that can be heard a few miles away at night. I don’t think there is another owl species that does hooting better than a Great Horned Owl!
#25. Eastern Garter Snake
- Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis
- Adults typically range from 18 to 26 inches in length.
- Coloration varies and can be mixtures of green, brown, or black. Look for a distinct yellow or whitish stripe down the center of their back.
- Some individuals may exhibit a checkered body pattern.
- Subspecies of the Common Garter Snake.
These snakes are common in South Dakota and are easy to locate!
In fact, Eastern Garter Snakes are typically the species that people come across the most. They’re well-adapted to living around people and can often be found in city parks, farmland, cemeteries, and suburban lawns and gardens. Though not required, they prefer grassy environments near freshwater sources such as ponds, lakes, ditches, and streams.
Look for these snakes in South Dakota basking in the sun in grassy areas near cover.
The Eastern Garter Snake most commonly preys on toads, frogs, slugs, salamanders, fish, and worms. However, they are very opportunistic and will eat other insects and small animals they can overpower. They’re active during both the day and night, depending on the temperature.
Eastern Garter Snakes protect themselves when they are cornered or feel threatened. For example, if you capture or continually disturb one, it will defecate and release a foul-smelling musk from its glands. It’s also common for them to bite as a last resort!
- Pituophis catenifer sayi
- Adults are large and typically range from 4 to 6 feet in length.
- Coloration is yellow, beige, or light brown with large brown, black, or reddish blotching on the back and three sets of small blotches on the sides.
- Blotches may appear like bands near the end of the tail, and the underside is yellowish with black spots.
Look for these snakes in South Dakota in areas with high rodent populations.
Bullsnakes frequent places like prairie dog towns. But you can also find them in fields, grasslands, forest edges, savannas, and brushlands with sandy soils.
Bullsnakes are fast and can actively pursue prey in loose soil. They even use their prominent rostral (nose scale) to dig! Once they’ve captured their prey, they use their strong body to coil around and constrict their prey.
Despite being nonvenomous, these snakes act aggressively toward any threats. They often lift the front half of their body, hiss, and lunge at their attacker until they feel they can retreat.
Interestingly, their hissing can sound like a rattle!
To accomplish this, the snake forces air through an extension of the windpipe, which has a piece of cartilage called an epiglottis that flaps back and forth, sounding very similar to a rattlesnake. (see below)
#27. Painted Turtle
- Chrysemys picta
- 2.5 to 10 inches long.
- The carapace is low to the ground and generally dark brown or black.
- As the name suggests, they have distinctive yellow, green, and red striping on the carapace, head, and limbs.
The Painted Turtle is one of the most recognizable turtles in South Dakota because of its beautiful coloring! Look for the bright reds and yellow-greens on its shell, limbs, and head.
Painted Turtles live near water with minimal movement, such as ponds, marshes, small lakes, and slow-moving streams with sandy bottoms. They are attracted to areas with plenty of aquatic plants, which are their primary food source.
Painted Turtle Rangemap:
It is almost impossible to accurately assess the population of Painted Turtles in South Dakota. Many people keep them as pets and then release them into the wild, causing an ever-expanding range and unstable reproduction rates. These released turtles can also put pressure on natural populations.
In the wild, Painted Turtles can hold their breath for up to 30 hours in temperate water!
They also have the ability to remain dormant in near-freezing water for up to 4 months. This ability is essential when temperatures often go below freezing.
#28. Common Snapping Turtle
- Chelydra serpentina
- Weighs 10 to 35 lbs. and is 8 to 18 1/2 inches long.
- The snapping turtle has a long tail, chunky head, and large webbed feet.
- The carapace (upper shell) coloring is black, brown, or olive with no distinct pattern.
Look for Snapping Turtles in South Dakota in marshes, lakes, ponds, and slow streams.
They prefer areas with plenty of aquatic vegetation to hide in and insects, fish, frogs, and birds to eat.
Snapping Turtle Rangemap:
Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society
Snapping Turtles are best known for their powerful jaws. While there aren’t any recorded incidents of one of their bites causing amputation to a person, it can cause infections serious enough to require an amputation. In fact, their jaws are so strong that snapping turtles commonly eat other turtles!
These turtles are usually docile but will become very aggressive if removed from the water. One of the best ways to calm an aggressive individual is to place it back into the water, where it can feel safe. I know I have personally picked them up with a large snow shovel to get them off the road and back to safety!
#29. Northern Leopard Frog
- Lithobates pipiens
- Adults range from 2 to 4.5 inches long.
- Smooth skin is green, brown, or yellow-green with large dark spots.
- Lighter-colored raised ridges extend down the length of the back.
You can spot Northern Leopard Frogs in South Dakota near slow-moving bodies of water with lots of vegetation. You might see them in or near ponds, lakes, streams, and marshes. I love how bright green many individuals appear!
Northern Leopard Frog Range Map
Due to their fairly large size, these frogs eat various foods, including worms, crickets, flies, small frogs, snakes, and birds. In one study, a bat was even observed being eaten!
During the spring breeding season, the males will float in shallow pools emitting a low call thought to sound a bit like snoring. The Northern Leopard Frog may also make a high, loud, screaming call if captured or startled.
Northern Leopard Frog populations are declining in many areas, and the cause is not exactly known. It’s thought to be some combination of habitat loss, drought, introduced fish, environmental contaminants, and disease.
Do you want to learn about MORE common animals in South Dakota?
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Which of these animals in South Dakota have you seen?
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