28 Birds You Can See in WINTER in South Dakota (2024)

What kinds of birds can you find in winter in South Dakota?

Types of winter birds in South Dakota

As you head outside this winter, keep your eyes open for which birds are around. As you will see, some species migrate here just during winter, while others can be observed during any season.

28 Winter birds in South Dakota:

#1. American Robin

  • Turdus migratorius

Types of winter birds in South Dakota

  • 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 winter birds in South Dakota!

In winter, American Robins form nomadic flocks of up to thousands of birds. Their winter range depends on weather and food supply, but they regularly remain in their range year-round.

In the spring, they split up, and you will see individuals guarding territories in advance of nesting.

American Robin Range Map

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.

These birds also commonly nest near people. Look for an open cup-shaped nest that has 3-5 beautiful, distinctive sky-blue color eggs.

Types of winter birds in South Dakota

#2. American Tree Sparrow

  • Spizelloides arborea

Types of winter birds in South Dakota

  • Both sexes are rusty colored on their round head. Their face is gray with a brown streak by their eyes.
  • The body is gray with reddish-brown, white, and black streaks.

You will often see American Tree Sparrows in small flocks, hopping on the ground, looking for seeds in the grass or weeds. They are common winter birds in South Dakota.

In the winter, this species likes to visit backyard feeders searching for small seeds, like millet, that have fallen to the ground. Millet comes in most birdseed mixes, and many birds don’t eat it. So American Tree Sparrows are nice to have around because they’ll help clean up your feeding area.

American Tree Sparrow Range Map

american tree sparrow range map

American Tree Sparrows eat a lot! In fact, they have to take in 30% of their body weight in food and water each day. Unfortunately, that means going a day without eating is usually a death sentence for them.

Their song is a series of clear opening notes followed by a variably trilled melody.

YouTube video

#3. White-breasted Nuthatch

  • Sitta carolinensis

Types of winter birds in South Dakota

  • Both sexes look almost the same.
  • Males have a black cap on the top of their heads.
  • Females display a lighter, more gray crown.

Look for White-breasted Nuthatches in South Dakota in deciduous forests year-round. They adapt well to the presence of humans and are often seen in parks, cemeteries, and wooded backyards.

These birds are especially common to see in winter visiting bird feeders. To attract nuthatches, use sunflower seeds, peanuts, suet, safflower seeds, and mealworms.

White-breasted Nuthatch Range Map

White-breasted Nuthatches are incredibly vocal AND make distinctive noises that are relatively easy to identify! You are most likely to hear a “yank” call, which is given at any time of year. This loud and distinctive noise is often repeated several times in a row.

#4. Mourning Dove

  • Zenaida macroura

Types of winter birds in South Dakota

  • 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.

Mourning Doves are one of the most common birds seen in winter in South Dakota.

These birds love visiting bird feeders! To attract them, try putting out their favorite foods, which include millet, shelled sunflower seeds, nyjer seeds, cracked corn, and safflower seeds.

They are most comfortable feeding on the ground, so make sure to throw some food there, too.

Mourning Dove Range Map

mourning dove range map

It’s common to hear Mourning Doves even in winter. 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.

YouTube video

#5. Black-capped Chickadee

  • Poecile atricapillus

winter birds

  • Look for a black cap and bib, white cheeks, buffy underparts, and gray back and wings.
  • Round body with a short neck and large head.
  • Short, thin bill.

These little winter birds are one of the most beloved species in South Dakota, and it’s easy to see why! Black-capped Chickadees are often described as “cute,” They are tiny, with an oversized head that features a black cap and bib.

Naturally, look for them in open deciduous forests, thickets, and cottonwood groves. They also adapt easily to the presence of people and are common to see in backyards and parks throughout the winter.

Black-capped Chickadee Range Map

black capped chickadee range map

In fact, once you set up a new bird feeder, chickadees will likely be the first birds to visit, as they are curious about anything new in their territory. The best foods to use are sunflower seeds, peanuts, and suet. Their small size and athletic ability mean these birds can use just about any type of feeder!

These feeders can be especially helpful to Chickadees in the winter. To survive cold nights, Chickadees gain about 10% in body weight each day.

#6. European Starling

  • Sturnus vulgaris

  • Their plumage is black and appears to be shiny.
  • Breeding adults are darker black and have a green-purple tint.
  • In winter, starlings lose their glossiness, their beaks become darker, and they develop white spots over their bodies.

European Starlings are incredibly common winter birds in South Dakota.

But did you know these birds are an invasive species? Back in 1890, one hundred starlings were brought over from Europe and released in New York City’s Central Park. The man responsible (Eugene Schieffelin) had a mission to introduce all of the birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays in North America.

European Starling Range Map

starling range map

The rest is history as starlings easily conquered the continent, along the way out-competing many of our beautiful native birds. Their ability to adapt to human development, eat almost anything, and survive winter weather is uncanny to virtually no other species.

#7. Downy Woodpecker

  • Dryobates pubescens
  • White below, white back, and black wings with white markings.
  • Black and white striped heads that feature a red nape in males.
  • Small woodpeckers with short bills.

Downy Woodpeckers are common winter birds in South Dakota!

You probably recognize them, as they are seen in many yards visiting bird feeders.

This woodpecker species is easy to attract. The best foods to use are suet, sunflower seeds, and peanuts (including peanut butter).

Downy Woodpecker Range Map

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.

YouTube video

#8. Pine Siskin

  • Spinus pinus

  • Brown bodies with heavy streaking and yellow edging on wings and tail.
  • Narrow, sharp-pointed bill.

Pine Siskins are winter birds typically found in mixed evergreen or deciduous forests, but they will move to a new place in search of food, like weedy fields, backyards, or gardens.

These energetic birds can be seen visiting bird feeders during the winter. They prefer to eat smaller seeds without tough shells, such as sunflower or Nyjer seeds.

Pine Siskin Range Map

pine siskin range key

These small birds are very social and search for food in flocks while chirping nonstop to each other. They don’t even stop chattering when flying!

#9. Dark-eyed Junco

  • Junco hyemalis

  • Smooth greyish-black feathers.
  • White outer tail feathers that flash open, especially in flight.
  • Rounded head and pink bill.

Dark-eyed Juncos are one of the most common winter birds in South Dakota. To easily identify Dark-eyed Juncos, look for a white flash from their tail feathers as they fly away.

Dark-eyed Juncos have earned the nickname “Snowbirds” or “Winter birds” because they only appear in winter in many parts of their range.

Dark-eyed Junco Range Map

dark eyed junco range map

Males sing a two-second loud, trilling song that can carry hundreds of feet away. In addition, both sexes also sing softer songs that are a mixture of warbles, trills, and whistles.

#10. Mallard

  • Anas platyrhynchos

  • Males have a bright green head, thin white collar, dark reddish-brown chest, yellow bill, and a black rump with a white-tipped tail.
  • Females are mottled brown with orange and brown bills.

My guess is that almost everyone is familiar with the Mallard. These ducks are one of the most common water birds you will see in winter throughout South Dakota!

Unlike many types of ducks that migrate, Mallards typically stay in their range year-round.

Mallard Range Map

mallard duck range map

They are extremely comfortable around people, which is why these adaptable ducks are so widespread.

Mallards are found in virtually any wetland habitat, no matter where it’s located. We even find these water birds in our swimming pool every summer and must chase them away so they don’t make a mess on our deck! 🙂

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. 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 common winter birds in South Dakota.

I’m sure you probably recognize them, 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.

Canada Goose Range Map

canada goose range map

Many Canada Geese are now non-migratory. These non-migratory winter birds are the descendants of non-migratory geese introduced to U.S. wildlife refuges by the hundreds in the early 1900s.

Listen for a wide variety of loud honks and cackles. They have even hissed at me for accidentally approaching a nest too closely.

#12. American Crow

  • Corvus brachyrhynchos

american crow

  • A large bird that is entirely black with an iridescent sheen.
  • Long black bill, black legs, and black feet.

American Crows are adaptable winter birds that can be found in almost every habitat in South Dakota. The places they inhabit include woodlands, fields, rivers, marshes, farms, parks, landfills, golf courses, cemeteries, and neighborhoods.

American Crow Range Map

american crow range map

American Crows are one of the smartest birds around.

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)

YouTube video

#13. House Sparrow

  • Passer domesticus

  • Chunky birds with round heads and stout bills.
  • Males have gray crowns, black bibs, white cheeks, chestnut necks, and chestnut backs with black strips.
  • Females are plain buffy brown with noticeable black, brown, and buff strips on their backs.

House Sparrows are an invasive species that originated from the Middle East. But now, they are one of the most widespread winter birds in South Dakota (and the world)!

Range Map – House Sparrow

house sparrow range map

House Sparrows owe their year-round success to their ability to adapt and live near humans. Because of this, they are almost always found in urban and suburban areas.

House Sparrows can be heard across the entire planet. Pay attention the next time you’re watching the news in another country. Listen for a simple song that includes lots of “cheep” notes.

YouTube video

#14. Red-breasted Nuthatch

  • Sitta canadensisRed-breasted Nuthatch Male and Female
  • Compact birds with very short tails, almost no necks, and sharp bills.
  • Males are blue-gray above and rusty below with black caps, white eyebrows, and black eyelines.
  • Females have grayer caps and pale, rusty underparts.

Red-breasted Nuthatches are active winter songbirds in South Dakota that have beautiful coloring. Look for compact birds with almost no neck and a short tail.

These small birds breed in northern North America, the western mountains, and the upper northeast. But during winter, they can truly show up almost anywhere.

These birds travel where needed to make sure they have enough food. In some years, they have been seen as far south as the Gulf of Mexico and Northern Mexico!

Red-breasted Nuthatch Range Map

Red-breasted Nuthatches are mostly found in coniferous forests. Their preferred habitat contrasts sharply with White-breasted Nuthatches, who prefer living in deciduous forests.

#15. House Finch

  • Haemorhous mexicanus

  • Males feature rosy red breasts and heads with streaky brown backs, bellies, and tails.
  • Females are brown overall with blurry streaks down their bellies.
  • Conical bills and notched tails.

It’s common to see these birds in winter in areas with lots of people. Look for House Finches around buildings, backyards, parks, and other urban and suburban areas.

Their original range is in the western United States, but they were released in New York City in the 1940s after a failed attempt at selling them as pets. Since then, they have spread through much of North America.

House Finch Range Map

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 seeds and safflower seeds the most in my backyard.

#16. Bufflehead

  • Bucephala albeola

bufflehead male female

  • Small ducks with large heads.
  • Males have white chests and flanks and a large white patch on their heads. Dark back. Iridescent purple-green plumage on their face.
  • Females are mostly brownish with a darker head. Look for the distinctive white cheek patch.

It’s hard to misidentify these striking birds in winter. They breed in the far north but spend their winters in South Dakota.

They spend up to half their time foraging underwater, looking for aquatic invertebrates and crustaceans, which they eat while still submerged. When they dive, be patient and keep scanning the area for these small birds to resurface.

Bufflehead Range Map

bufflehead range map

Overall, Buffleheads are more silent than other ducks. In late winter to early spring, it’s possible to hear the males make a squeaky whistle.

#17. 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.

Without a doubt, the Northern Cardinal is one of the most well-known winter birds in South Dakota. Their colorful plumage makes them a popular bird for winter landscape photographs and paintings.

Northern Cardinal Range Map

northern cardinal range map

These brightly-colored birds will often stay in an area year-round as long as they have enough food and shelter. Feeders and areas of thick shrubs or brush can encourage them to stay in your yard through the winter.

Usually, you will see Cardinals in pairs, even in the winter. Pairs typically mate for life and will remain together year-round.

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!)

#18. Purple Finch

  • Haemorhous purpureus

purple finch male and female

  • Small, with a conical seed-eating bill.
  • Males have a raspberry red head, breast, and back.
  • Females have prominent streaks of white and brown below, with strong facial markings, including a whitish eyebrow and a dark line down the side of the throat.

Purple Finches are one of the most beautiful winter birds in South Dakota. Males are described as looking like they were dipped in raspberry juice.

Purple Finches use their big beaks and tongues to crush seeds and extract the nut. This is good news because they’ll also visit bird feeders! Your best chance to attract them is using black-oil sunflower seeds. Having conifer trees in your yard is also a great way to encourage these finches to visit.

Purple Finch Range Map

purple finch range map

These birds can be challenging to identify because they look incredibly similar to the more common House Finch. I’ve made this mistake many times, believing that I saw a Purple Finch when it was, in fact, just another House Finch.

To tell them apart, look at their back. The Purple Finch’s back has red coloring, while the back of a House Finch has none.

#19. Eurasian Collared-Dove

  • Streptopelia decaocto

  • A mostly sandy gray bird with a long, square-tipped tail.
  • As the name suggests, look for a black collar on the back of the neck.

Interestingly, these winter birds are invasive to South Dakota.

Unfortunately, somebody introduced Eurasian Collared-Doves to the Bahamas in the 1970s, and since then, they have rapidly spread. In fact, their population is still spreading!

Eurasian Collared-Dove Range Map

Eurasian collared dove range map

One of the reasons these birds colonized here so quickly is due to their comfort level with humans. They have thrived being around bird feeders and in urban and suburban areas. It’s common to see them on the ground or platform feeders eating grains and seeds.

How do you tell them apart from Mourning Doves?

At first glance, Eurasian Collared-Doves look very similar to Mourning Doves. Here’s how to tell them apart:

  • Mourning Doves are smaller and have black dots on their wings.
  • Eurasian Collared-Doves are larger and have a black crescent around their neck.

#20. Blue Jay

  • Cyanocitta cristata

  • Backs are covered in beautiful blue feathers with black bars throughout.
  • Their head is surrounded by a black necklace that has a blue crest on top.
  • Males and females look the same.

Blue Jays are known for their high intelligence.

Some people dislike Blue Jays, but I love their bold personalities. They’re interesting to observe, not to mention their plumage is stunning.

Blue Jay Range Map

blue jay range map

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 present. Not a bad plan if you want to get a bird feeder all to yourself!

Blue Jays are one of the noisier birds you will hear in winter in South Dakota.

The most common vocalization that I hear is their alarm call, which sounds like it’s saying “jeer.”

#21. Evening Grosbeak

  • Coccothraustes vespertinus

Evening Grosbeak male and female

  • Both sexes have a large, thick, conical beak and are the size of an American Robin.
  • Males are yellow and black with a prominent white patch in the wings and a bright yellow stripe over the eye.
  • Females are mostly gray with white and black wings and a greenish-yellow tinge on the neck and their sides.

Evening Grosbeaks are a colorful winter bird you can find in South Dakota.

During summer, they are found in the northern coniferous forests. But in winter, they can be found pretty much anywhere as they search for food.

Evening Grosbeaks are known for their large and strong bill. They use these bills to crack open large seeds that other birds are unable to open.

Evening Grosbeak Range Map

evening grosbeak range map

In fact, these finches will show up at feeders far south of their normal winter range, which provides a treat for backyard birders. You can attract them with sunflower seeds placed onto a large platform feeder, which gives these birds ample room to land and eat.

#22. Red-bellied Woodpecker

  • Melanerpes carolinus

red bellied woodpecker

  • Striking black and white barred backs and pale bellies.
  • Males have red crowns and napes.
  • Females have red napes but lack the red crown.

These woodpeckers are a common sight at feeders in South Dakota, especially during winter.

I see Red-bellied Woodpeckers almost daily in my backyard. They love eating peanuts, sunflower seeds, and suet (especially popular during the winter months).

Red-bellied Woodpecker Range Map


Press PLAY below to hear a Red-bellied Woodpecker! Another great way to find this woodpecker is to learn its calls! It’s quite common to hear them in forests and wooded suburbs and parks. Listen for a rolling “churr-churr-churr.”

YouTube video

#23. Common Redpoll

  • Acanthis flammea

Common Redpoll male and female

  • Both sexes are small, white, and brown. Look for streaks on their sides and a small red patch on their forehead.
  • Males differ from females and have a pale red vest on the chest and upper flanks.

Redpolls are only seen in South Dakota during winter. During the breeding season, they are found in the boreal forests of northern North America.

Redpolls travel in flocks of up to several hundred birds. They move very fast, gathering seeds in weedy fields or small trees one minute and swirling away in a mass of chattering birds the next.

Common Redpoll Range Map

common redpoll range map

Listen below to the Redpoll song, which is a combination of single or repeated calls (“chit-chit-chit-chit”). Their call notes are a whistle that sounds like “swee-ee-eet.”

#24. Snow Goose

  • Anser caerulescens

snow goose

  • Most Snow Geese are all white with black tail feathers. But some individuals display a “blue morph,” whose heads are still white but bodies are sooty gray.
  • Pink legs.
  • Pink bill, which has a black patch on each side.

Snow Geese spend their time in the continent’s northernmost areas during the breeding season, away from human civilization. However, they are abundant birds in parts of southern North America because they migrate south for winter.

Snow Goose Range Map

snow goose range map

Look for Snow Geese in winter in large fields and bodies of water. If they are around, it’s usually not hard to find them, as they are almost always seen in huge flocks accompanied by a lot of honking!

In fact, one of the most impressive things you will watch today is the video below, which shows an ENORMOUS flock of Snow Geese. It’s hard to fathom how many birds are traveling together!

YouTube video

#25. Tundra Swan

  • Cygnus columbianus

tundra swan

  • White bodies and very long necks.
  • Black legs and bill.
  • Small yellow spots in front of the eyes.

During summer, you will not see Tundra Swans near people, as they spend the breeding season in the remote Arctic.

Look for them in South Dakota in winter and during migration, where they are visitors to large bodies of water. They also visit farm fields in large flocks, looking for food.

Tundra Swan Range Map

Tundra Swan Range Map
Cephas, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Tundra Swans form long-term, dedicated relationships. Typically, by the time they are 2 or 3, they have found a partner. Once that happens, these two birds will breed, feed, roost, and travel together year-round.

#26. Snowy Owl

  • Bubo scandiacus

Snowy Owl Male and Female

  • Adult males range from pure white to white with a few dark spots.
  • Adult females are white with darker barring except on their faces.
  • Bright yellow eyes.

Snowy Owls are arguably the most impressive winter birds you will see in South Dakota.

Their white plumage stops almost everyone in their tracks, both birders and non-birders alike! Although they are mostly white, females have horizontal dark lines over most of their bodies. Interestingly, similar to humans, male Snowy Owls seem to get whiter with age. 🙂

Snowy Owl Range Map

snowy owl range map

Snowy Owls migrate with the changing seasons. During summer, they mate and breed in northern North America on the tundra. But when winter arrives, these birds come south.

You never know how far south Snowy Owls will travel. Most years, Snowy Owls only appear as far down as the northern USA. But some years, there is an “irruption” of Snowy Owls, and many more birds than normal migrate south.

#27. Black-billed Magpie

  • Pica hudsonia

  • Jay-like with long tails and heavy bills.
  • Appears black with white wingtips, shoulders, and belly.
  • Black feathers flash iridescent blue-green in the right light.

It’s hard to miss these shiny birds in winter!

Black-billed Magpies demand your attention. They are very social, noisy, and comfortable living amongst people and are commonly seen in smaller towns. Naturally, they live in open grasslands and plains and tend to avoid dense forests.

And in the right light, you can see beautiful blue iridescent feathers on the wings and tail.

Black-billed Magpie Range Map

These colorful winter birds are incredibly vocal. They often give harsh calls or a raspy, chattering song that sounds a bit like “wock, wock wock-a-wock, wock, pjur, weer, weer.” See one chattering below.

YouTube video

#28. Greater White-fronted Goose

  • Anser albifrons

greater white fronted goose

  • These geese are brownish with black spots on the belly, white vents, white face patches, and white side strips.
  • Pinkish-orange bill and orange legs.
  • In flight, a white “U” is visible at the base of the tail.

Greater White-fronted Geese are only seen in South Dakota in winter as they migrate south after breeding in the Arctic tundra. Look for these large geese in large flocks in wetlands, lakes, and farm fields.

Greater White-fronted Goose Range Map

greater white fronted goose range map

Greater White-fronted Geese have INCREDIBLY strong family bonds. Mated pairs migrate with each other and stay together for many years. Their offspring even stick around for longer than most other species, and it’s not unusual to see the young with their parents through the next breeding season.

Check out these other guides to animals in South Dakota!

Which of these winter birds have you seen before in South Dakota?

Leave a comment below!

Some range maps below were generously shared with permission from The Birds of The World, published by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

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