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!

Next up:  So much to do in the Black Hills!