Year-Round Birding

by Erin Brady, guest blogger | September 29, 2017
Nature & Recreation

One of the best things about birding is that you can find birds in almost any type of environment, even in a crowded city or an arid desert. Still, some places are particularly attractive to birds, which makes them ideal destinations for birdwatchers. The Spearfish area is one such haven for bird life. Spearfish Canyon has even been designated an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society.

There’s excellent birding in the Spearfish area, and it changes with each season. Summer is a peak time for birding because there’s such a high volume of birds present. It’s also breeding season for many birds, so the males of some species have brighter plumage during this time. Migrating birds come and go sporadically in the spring and fall, which makes them particularly exciting to see. The birds may be a bit more subdued in the winter, but there are still many year-round residents as well as some exciting visitors. The key to successful birding is to always be on the look because there are opportunities everywhere, so keep your binoculars handy. Plus, even on a slow bird day, you’re still spending time in some of the most beautiful natural scenery you’ll ever see.

Birding in the Canyon

This past summer I had great luck birding in Spearfish Canyon. I saw more birds than I could keep track of, but some highlights were Ospreys, American Dippers, Belted Kingfishers, and Western Tanagers.

The entire Canyon is prime bird habitat, so driving along the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway or walking any trail should yield bird sightings. One of my favorite birding spots is the trail around Roughlock Falls. The area above the falls is a great place to see warblers like the American Redstart, and keep an eye out for American Dippers in the waters at the bottom of the falls. Dippers are particularly nice to see because they’re a sign of a healthy habitat; they only live along streams with excellent water quality. These small, gray birds can be seen along creeks throughout the Canyon, and they’re easily identified thanks to their signature dipping walk.

Ospreys have become regular summer residents in the Spearfish area. They can often be found sitting in trees overlooking creeks and ponds or near their nests. Their diet consists almost entirely of fish, so they’re never too far from a water source. Ospreys in the Canyon nest at the top of tall dead trees, and a couple nests are visible from the scenic byway. Ospreys have also been sighted near Mud Lake in Spearfish.

Bird Hotspots in Spearfish

The grasslands around Spearfish are excellent habitat for birds like Western Meadowlarks, Mountain Bluebirds, and Eastern Kingbirds. I explored the trails around Mirror Lakes for the first time this summer, and they were a treasure trove of birdlife. This is where I made one of my most exciting finds of the summer: Cedar Waxwings with an unusual color variation. The Cedar Waxwing’s tail tip is usually yellow, but if the bird eats the berries of a particular type of honeysuckle while growing these feathers the red pigment is picked up and the feathers grow in orange instead. I saw a group of Cedar Waxwings and about half had noticeably orange tail tips.

The D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery in Spearfish and the surrounding park is a popular spot for waterfowl, including Mallards, Canada Geese, and Wood Ducks. Spearfish Creek runs through the park, and there are several ponds on the fish hatchery grounds. This summer I observed several juvenile Wood Ducks here. There are also two hiking trails on the hatchery grounds that are good for birding.

Birding The Whole Year Through

You don’t have to wait until the summer to enjoy birding in the Spearfish area. There are a number of birds that live here all year long. Great Horned Owls, Dark-eyed Juncos, Pine Siskins, Black-capped Chickadees, American Dippers, and Gray Jays are just a few of the year-rounders. Winter is also the best time to see Bald Eagles in Spearfish Canyon. The snowy landscape is a magical backdrop for birding, just be sure to bundle up.

The Spearfish area is a birder’s dream because it’s both reliable and exciting. I’ve been coming here for years, and I still find new places to birdwatch each visit. I enjoy seeing familiar species year after year, but I also love the thrill of seeing something new. Here I can do both. Whether you’re a seasoned birder or just getting started, you’ll be delighted with the birds of Spearfish and Spearfish Canyon.

Resources for Birders

The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department offers some great free birding resources online. I’ve found The Black Hills, Badlands and Lakes Birding Trail Guide to be incredibly useful; it offers detailed directions to some birding hot-spots in the Spearfish area. A Birder’s Guide to the George S. Mickelson Trail is another useful resource for birding in the Spearfish area.


About the Author

Erin is all about wildlife photography. Most of her photos focus is on fauna, but often times eye-catching flora pops up, too. To see more of her work, follow her on Instagram: @aperkatseye


The Spearfish area contains great bird habitats: Ponderosa pine forests, flowing mountain streams with rich vegetation, aspen groves, lakes, burned-areas, mixed-grassland hills, potholes and marshes, pastureland and urban parks. Explore this More

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