Wildlife Alert! – Black Hills, South Dakota

Several of you who have been to the Black Hills and recommended that we make it a “must-do” while in South Dakota would agree with me that it’s a great place for fun, outdoor adventure and to be surrounded by the delights of nature.  Naturally we spent our days there in the outdoors, either driving the scenic byways, gazing at the monuments or hitting the trails.

Custer State Park

It was while doing these activities that we learned how rich the area is with wildlife in their natural habitat.  I snapped so many pictures of them that I thought they deserved their own post.  So I hope this “wildlife alert” will be entertaining for all you lovers of wild animals, as it was for us.

Let me begin with a regular guest at our campsite.  Unlike Sparrows, the White-winged Juncos didn’t hang around and “bogart” the feeder.  They just came by now and then for a little snack, then went on their merry way.  So we had to be ready to enjoy and photograph their snack sessions:

White-winged Junco
A White-winged Junco with his eye on our feeder

We encountered the biggest snake of our travels so far.  It wasn’t a rattlesnake, but it was big enough that we wanted nothing to do with it:

Steve estimated it to be 3 1/2 – 4 ft. long

Are these guys eligible for Thanksgiving dinner?  If so, they’d better go into hiding soon!

Wild Turkeys

Prairie Dogs are common here.  They’re social rodents that group together and build their own little “towns”.  They get their name from the bark-like call that they make to each other.

Prairie Dog
Why did the Prairie Dog cross the road?
Prairie Dogs
To get home for dinner before his wife yelled at him!

These Yellow-bellied Marmots are a type of large Ground Squirrel, and they’re also known here as Woodchucks, Groundhogs or “Whistling Pigs.”  I thought they were eyeing us, but it turns out they don’t have good eyesight.  They do have excellent hearing and smell senses, though.


One early morning we heard a rustling in the woods along highway 16A and looked up to see a large herd of Elk…

Herd of Elk

Elk Herd

…and this handsome specimen led his harem into the forest:

Elk Bull

The paparazzi were waiting outside Needle Rock Tunnel for some celebrities to appear:

Needles Highway Tunnel

But these stars weren’t ready for the limelight until they finished licking minerals off the tunnel walls.  This family of beautiful Mountain Goats were introduced into the Black Hills in 1924, and are part of a group of about 400 that live here now.

Mountain Goat

They’re not true goats, but close relatives.  They are more properly known as goat-antelopes.  A female is called a nanny, a male is a billy, and young are known as kids.

Mountain Goats

Folks finally got tired of waiting in the tunnel, and someone had to shoo these guys away so traffic could pass:

Mountain Goat

One day we got up early and drove the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road within Custer State Park.  On its 71,000 acres of grassland and pine-speckled hills the park protects an array of wildlife.

Custer State Park

Our first sightings were the non-native Burros.  They were descendants from a herd that once hauled visitors to the top of Harney Peak.  These animals were released into the park where they now beg for treats from passing tourists.

A posse on the road waiting for treats
Knock-knock, do you have a snack for us?

Pronghorns get their name from the buck’s large pronged horns.  They are considered the fastest land animal in North America, running at up to 60 mph for great distances.

Pronghorns locking horns
These guys seem to be doing battle…
…while the girls stand by to watch the action

Pronghorns also like to cross the road here, but they don’t dilly-dally like the Mountain Goats:


Then there were the Bison.  The Custer State Park herd averages 1,450 animals after the calves are born, which reduces to about 950 in time for the public auction.  Every September they are rounded up and herded into corrals.  Calves are branded and females vaccinated, with some sorted out for sale at the annual auction  The remaining ones are released to the park for another year.

Happy Bison

The auction is held in November, and buyers from all over the U.S. and Canada purchase animals from the park for breeding stock or slaughter.  Duff Ranch in Kansas, where we rode with the Bison (click here for that story), turns out to be one of the buyers.


The Bison is the official logo of Custer State Park, and its claim to fame is this world-class wildlife refuge.


And that was just the wildlife!



  1. I loved this post! Wildlife viewing is a favorite pastime for me. Your post brought back memories of our visit to Custer State Park and the Black Hills. We loved seeing so many animals when we were there. Your pictures are great!

  2. Don’t you just love all the wildlife you can find in the western half of the country! It always takes me awhile to stop looking aorund for wildlife when we go back east. You got super pictures of all the wildlife. But the hit had to be the mountian goats. Aren’t they so white! I just love them. That is the same type snake we saw on the trail at Scott’s Bluff! It had come throught the tunnel and was just coming out and heading around the corner. John got there first and had the camera. But never thought about taking a photo…duh! He was waving to me to hurry, but when I go tthere it was in the grass and tough to get a good photo. But that was him…pretty and very large. Thanks for all the wildlife photos:)

  3. You seemed to have hit the jackpot with all these sightings and fantastic photos. We love the Black Hills and could stay another week easily. We’re already talking about a return trip.

  4. wow Mona Liza these are great pictures. It seems as if you saw most of these from the road. We saw a lot of wildlife at Custer but most of them were on trails. Can’t believe the mountain goats were in the tunnel. Talk about an easy sighting. Really fabulous pictures.

  5. I absolutely loved this post MonaLiza! So glad that you had so many sightings and you shared them all with us. Wish we would have had the experience through Needle Rock Tunnel that you did. 🙂

  6. Wow! What a lot of critters! I love the big snake and the goat-antelope things. I would have loved this trip. Great pics. 🙂

  7. Looks like a good time of year for wildlife viewing. When we were there we didn’t see the mountain goats, snake, elk or woodchucks. Wow! You had quite the field days driving those routes. We loved the burros. A whole herd of them was out when we drove through. They came right up to the windows on both sides of the truck. The Black Hills definitely requires more exploration for us. We want to do more hiking!

  8. Just getting caught up after a few days without internet, and I am so glad I didn’t miss this post! Your wildlife photos are AMAZING! That big bull elk is gorgeous, and the mountain goats are so cute. We’ve never seen them except far, far away on a hillside. I didn’t even know there’s such a bird as a White-winged junco! We need to get out more, haha!

  9. Great post on one of our favorite areas. And, boy, did you score big on wildlife sightings. We never saw goats in the tunnel, and that just made me laugh when I saw the photos. Enjoy the area (I am very far behind reading my blog posts and you are probably long gone by now.)

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