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Pierre lies along the Missouri River, with Oahe Dam only 5 miles north of
the city. Many good birding locations are found in the area.
Locations of some of my favorite locations are shown and discussed in
One thing to note about the Pierre area...while it is one of my favorite
locations to bird, the distance from my part of the state means I only visit
a handful of times a year. There's a truly wonderful birding crowd in Pierre
that is typically more than willing to help a visitor to the area.
22' 1" N, 100° 20' 46" W
(Capital Building in center of Pierre).
27' 5" N, 100° 24' 10" W
(Center of Oahe Dam).
Points of Note (Click on numbers on the map to see
images of the locations):
One of the biggest attractions for birds in the Pierre area
is the Missouri River, which flows through the city itself. A prime area
to check at all seasons is directly below Oahe Dam, about 5 miles north of
Pierre (Point 1 on the map). The area below Oahe
Dam is perhaps the best location in the state to look for gulls and terns,
especially rarities (even some normally pelagic species!) that have otherwise
rarely been seen in the state. While it is a good location to check out at any
time of year, the open water found below the dam even in the dead of the coldest
winter makes it a tremendous attraction for not only gulls, but also waterfowl
(again, with the possibility of some true rarities for the state).
Wintering waterfowl and other birds also attracts
Bald Eagles, which can nearly
always be found in the trees overlooking the river below the dam. The
forested area on the west side of the river, right below the dam, can also be a
good place to look for forest species, and again, with some true rarities
sometimes being found (such as regularly found
The river below Oahe Dam flows through Pierre and Fort
Pierre, and near next to some more terrific birding stops. My 2nd
favorite location in the Pierre Area is Farm Island Recreation Area (Point
2). The Rec. Area is found a few miles east of Pierre, along the
Missouri River. It can be reached by taking highway 34 east out of
Pierre, and turning right (south) a few miles east of town. Farm
Island is indeed a very large island/peninsula jutting out into the Missouri
River. Upon entering the park, the north side of the river contains
the developed portion of the park, with a number of camping sites and picnic
areas. The great group of Pierre birders often maintain feeder
complexes in this portion of the park, and these areas are terrific bird
magnets in the winter time. A thin strip of land connects the north
shore to the island itself. At the end of the road as you head to the
island itself is a parking area, and the start of walking trails.
These trails are a must-stop location during a birding trip to the area, at
any time of year. Several miles of trails on the island go through
open areas, wetlands, mixed forest, and large areas of cedar trees.
It's a great location to look for migrating woodland birds in spring and
fall, and the cover offered by the cedar trees can hold some great
surprises in winter.
A similar area to Farm Island is LaFramboise Island
Nature Area, found right along the southern edge of Pierre itself (Point 3).
A thin causeway offers access to the Island from the southwestern part of
Pierre, with plentiful parking found at multiple locations. As with
the river right below Oahe Dam (just several miles upstream), this is a good
area to look for gulls and waterfowl, especially in winter when open water
can be found even in the coldest of winters. A strong current of water
flows from the main river channel on the west side of the causeway to the
river area on the east side of the causeway. In winter, when
most of the river to the east of the causeway is frozen, this current
typically leaves a small open area of water on the east side of the
causeway, an area where there are often wintering waterfowl and gulls.
A large sandbar in the middle of the river, visible to the west of the
causeway in the main river channel, also is a good spot to scan for rare
gulls and waterfowl, although a good set of binoculars or a scope is
required. At the end of the paved drive into the park is a parking
lot, with the start of hiking trails. As with the Farm Island area,
these trails offer a mix of open and forested habitats, and can also be very
good for finding woodland species.
One other type of area I always check if I make the trek
to the Pierre area are the rugged hills and bluffs on both sides of Oahe
Reservoir above the dam. These rugged areas are typically covered by
grassland, with cedar trees in the draws, and other little pockets of
shrubby or forested habitat. One of these very near the dam is very
popular for birders, and is called "Billy Goat Jump" (Point 4). This
area can be reached by taking Highway 1806, which runs along the western
side of the reservoir. From the western edge of the dam, take highway
1806 about a mile or a mile and half, until you've just reached the crest in
the topography. Right at the crest, where the road starts to head down
towards the water diversion dam/area of the reservoir, you'll see a small
gravel road heading off to the right. That leads into the Billy Goat
Jump area. As you first enter the road, you'll be driving past
grassland along the peak of the hill. The road will soon take a turn
to the right, and start to wind down towards the reservoir itself. As
you go down the hill towards the small loop/parking area at the bottom of
the road, you'll be passing brushy areas, and eventually, an area with thick
cedar trees and scattered pines. The brushy areas on the way down can
be "birdy" at any time of year, but especially so if the Pierre birding
crowd is maintaining feeders in the area (which they often do). It's
the cedar trees and pines towards the bottom that tend to attract most of
the attention for a birder, however. Thick crops of berries on the
cedar trees are a great draw for wintering birds, making this a great spot
to check for winter rarities such as
and (nearly always)
Townsend's Solitaires. The cover of the trees
also makes it a favorite location to look for wintering owls. Note
that the road stops short of the reservoir itself, leaving a hike down if
you truly want to get to the reservoir's shoreline. These brushy and
cedar-filled draws can be found all along the shores of Oahe Reservoir, and
any of these areas can be great spots to bird.
Birds of Note:
I love owls, and the the Pierre Area (and
Fort Pierre National
Grasslands to the south) offer some great opportunities for a wide
variety of owls. The cedar trees at
Billy Goat Jump,
and at LaFramboise
Island Nature Area and
Recreation Area are a great spot to look for wintering
Northern Sawwhet Owls
and Long-eared Owls.
Be advised though...it is one HECK of a lot of work to look through the cedars
in search of these guys! It's a matter of searching through the cedars for
"whitewash" of a long-standing roost. I've found plenty of former roosts,
but with just a few exceptions, they've been unoccupied when I've found them.
My best luck finding these guys in the Pierre Area? Relying on the
wonderful Pierre birder group for active roosts that they have found. Another owl species that must be mentioned are
Barn Owls. In
recent years, Pierre area birders have found that the species commonly nests in
burrows in the soft banks on the bluffs on the shores of Oahe Reservoir and the
The big attraction for a birder in the immediately Pierre
area though is often the chance for a rarity along the Missouri River.
Practically any species of gull that has been found in the Upper Great
Plains may be occasionally found below Oahe Dam. Rarities spotted in
the area include Mew Gull,
Black-legged Kittiwake. Pelagic species such as
Jaeger are extremely rare in the interior of the continent, but
have all been spotted in the area. The winter of 2007/2008 brought
much excitement to birders in the area, as an
Ivory Gull was
found hanging out near Oahe Dam. Other gulls commonly found at some
point during the year are
and Franklin's Gull.
The open water below the dam may hold
at any time of year (including non-breeding summer birds), while the
possibility exists for other, much more rare Loon species. Rare
waterfowl may also be found here, with past finds including
and all three Scoter species.
The Pierre area, again, in combination with the
Fort Pierre National
Grasslands to the south, are my favorite birding location in
winter. Given the vast number of Cedars (and often huge crops of
berries) found along the Missouri River in the area, even winter sometimes
seems to lose it's grip.
American Robins can sometimes be found in and around
the cedars, even in the dead of winter.
can be abundant, and a look through the flocks may reveal a few
Townsend's Solitaires are often found, while winter finches (Purple
Siskin) and occasionally
can also be found in these areas.
Forested areas at LaFramboise Island and Farm Island can
be good at any time of year for seasonally appropriate forest species.
Other Birding Locations (sorted by distance):