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South Dakota Birding Hotspot

Presho Area

Lyman County

Click on points to view actual ground photos and birding information for those locations.  Use the Google tools to switch between road maps, terrain, or satellite images.


Presho is right along Interstate-90, with the exit found at exit 223.  As the area is right along the interstate, it's quite easy to find.  From Sioux Falls, you simply head west on I-90 until you get to exit 223 (about 180 miles).  From Rapid City, you east east on I-90 (About 160 miles).

As noted below, this page refers to birding in the general around Presho. Specific "hotspots" around the Presho area will be noted below.

Geographic Coordinates: 43° 54' 11" N, 100° 3' 28" W coordinate at the center of Presho).


Presho itself is a small town along I-90 with a population of about 500, and a few services of interest for a traveler, such as gas stations, convenience stores, and a restaurant or two.  The surrounding area also doesn't look particularly impressive from a birding standpoint, as it's primarily the cropland and grazing land that you see elsewhere in the area.  However, there are a couple of very special characteristics which I believe make the area such a great area to bird in the winter.  Note I say winter, because birding is largely unremarkable here in the summer months.

First, the Fort Pierre National Grasslands are a mere 15-20 miles north of Presho.  The Grasslands themselves attract a large number of raptors in the winter. Secondly, the Presho area has a number of pheasant-hunting operations in the general vicinity.  One of the things you can't help but notice as you drive the area in the winter are the huge numbers of Ring-necked Pheasants that are often milling around.  Coupled with the Sharp-tailed Grouse that are also in the area, and there are a LOT of prey birds available to medium to large-sized raptors!  It is no wonder that many of the raptors that make their way to the Grasslands in the central part of the state end up hanging around the Presho area.  It's a winter-long feast of relatively easy to catch pheasants!  Given that many of the pheasants are captive-raised and released for hunters in the area, the pheasants aren't particularly bright!!

Habitat consists of agricultural crops (wheat and sorghum) intermixed with patches of grassland.  Some areas are also specifically managed for gamebirds, with shelter belts for shelter and specifically planted patches of plants for gamebirds to feed on.  I'm sure the area is a pheasant-hunter's nirvana, but it also is a birder's nirvana in the winter!!

Points of Note (Click on numbers on the map to see photos of the locations):

Honestly, you can just drive to Presho, and then start driving around randomly, and you're likely to have pretty good luck finding raptors.  I've run across raptors, including the rare ones, pretty much anywhere in the area.  With that said, there are a few areas that have been particularly productive for me.

I have my own little route that I typically take when I visit the area in winter.  I usually get up a couple of hours before dawn and drive out to the area so I can arrive at Presho right around dawn.   If you take the Presho exit, #223, and head south (Highway 183), after only half a mile, you'll see a gravel road heading to the west (your right).  Take it, and you'll see a cattle operation on your right after about half a mile.  Go through the first intersection (1 mile) and go west for one more (a 2nd) mile.  As you approach the next intersection, you'll see a small abandoned schoolhouse on the corner (Point #1 on the map).  It's the grassland area on this road leading up to the schoolhouse where I typically first encounter some raptors, and I specifically  mention the schoolhouse because raptors of ALL kinds seem to like to use the chimney as a perch!  I've seen pretty much the whole gamut of raptor possibilities using this perch in the winter.

Once you reach the schoolhouse, turn south (left).  You'll be driving through an area that primarily has grassland on either side of the road, and this road too often has raptors.  Check out the few scattered trees along the road for raptors, as well as the trees in a shelterbelt along this road, some planted cedar trees about 1 mile south of the schoolhouse, and an old windmill on the west side of the raod about a mile down.  You're now heading towards my favorite winter raptor location in the entire state, Point #2

"Point" #2 is actually an entire 1-mile X 1-mile section of land, bordered by 244th Street on then north, and 303rd Avenue on the west.  The northeast corner of this section is 2 miles south of the schoolhouse at Point #1.  You'll see an abandoned farmstead in the northeast corner of this section, and this seems to be a staging area for hunting operations in the area.  You literally can sometimes see HUNDREDS of pheasants milling around this northeast corner of the section.  To look for raptors, I often simply drive to this section, and slowly drive the gravel roads around it several times.   The roads can be a bit dicey if there's been significant snowfall, or if there's a metling situation and there's a lot of mud.  The northernmost, east-west road is particularly dicey sometimes, so be careful.  Check out the fenceposts for sitting raptors, the trees and buildings of the farmstead, and the grasslands themselves in this area.  This spot has NEVER disappointed me in the winter, as you are sure to find some raptors, and often, some of the rarer ones.

One other road I always make sure to check is the highway that runs parallel to the interstate, heading west out of Presho (Point #3).  You're typically running parallel to the interstate as you head west on this road.  As you're driving this highway, check out the telephone poles and fence posts for raptors.  I have seen ALL of the potential raptors along this road, including Snowy Owls and Gyrfalcons. 

Finally, there's a gravel road that runs east out of Presho, about a mile north of the interstate (Point #4).  I've always had great luck here.  East of Presho on this road there's an active Bald Eagle nest that always has eagles hanging around.  I've seen Short-eared Owls on this road multiple times. Other raptors can also be very common.

Other than that, just simply cruise the gravel roads of the area, and you're likely to see raptors!  My best luck has always been to the west of Presho, as raptor numbers seem to drop off the further east of Presho that I go.   Other than the highway paralleling the interstate on the north, I've also had much better luck south of I-90 than north of it. If you visit the area, also make sure to head just to the north to check out the Fort Pierre National Grasslands.

Birds of Note:

Raptors!  MANY raptors!! Many KINDS of raptors!!  RARE raptors!!  What more could you possibly want?  In the wintry hell that South Dakota can be, where nary a living bird seems to be around at times, visiting Presho in the winter is certainly a welcome experience.

You could possibly see almost any hawk or falcon in the state here in the winter.  By far, the most numerous raptor here and throughout much of the central part of the state in the winter are the Rough-legged Hawks.   Sometimes when I visit the area I tally the numbers and species that I see, and it's not unusual in a day's birding in the general area to run across 40 or or more Rough-legged Hawks.  Northern Harriers also seem to be quite common in the area, and it's one area where I always find them even in the dead of winter.  Red-tailed Hawks can also be quite common, especially early or late in the winter.  This is also a really good location to look for the large and majestic Ferruginous Hawk.   They're only around here in the winter, and one of the nice things about them is that they seem to be much less shy than some of the other raptors.  I've had great luck getting close to Ferruginous Hawks in this area.

One of the sights in central South Dakota that comes as a bit of a shock for some folks are all the eagles that can be found in winter.  For a location that is FAR from any large water body, it is a amazing how many Bald Eagles you can see in this area.  Check out this photo from the Presho area in the winter of 2010/2011, where 14 individual eagles were in one small stand of trees, and several others were either flying around the area or were perched nearby.  Golden Eagles are also commonly seen here, although I tend to see more Bald Eagles than Golden Eagles. 

If you drive around the area in winter, you WILL very likely see the five species I've just mentioned.  What makes the area particualry fun is the possibility of some rarer raptors. For falcons, Prairie Falcons aren't necessarily rare in South Dakota, but they're much less common than the species listed above.  This isn't an area I've had tremendous luck seeing Prairie Falcons, but I do see them probably every other trip to the area.  There are NO areas in South Dakota where I reliably see Merlins, but note that the vast majority of Merlin photos that I have are from this area, with just about all of them coming on fence posts along the section in Point #2 above.  One of the big draws of the area is the potential to see Gyrfalcons, a highlight for just about any birder.  They are less common than either the Prairie Falcons or Merlins in the area, but note I have seen Gyrfalcons on a number of occasions in this area, including in all three of the locations on the map above.

I have only once seen a Snowy Owl in the area.  That was a bird that I found on a telephone pole along the highway in Point #3 above.  More commonly seen are Short-eared Owls.  I've had pretty good luck seeing them in this area in winter, primarily in the southern half of the section in Point #2 above (the part of the section with more grassland).   When I've seen them, it's always been within about an hour of sunset.

For birds other than raptors, this is obviously a good location to look for Ring-necked Pheasants.  You will also find good numbers of Sharp-tailed Grouse in the area, and occasionally, I've also seen Gray Partridge.  The Merlins in the winter seem to like the spot because of the mxied flocks of Lapland Longspurs and Horned Larks that are often around.  You sometimes see Snow Buntings mixed in with those flocks in other parts of the state in winter, but there's only one time I recall seeing a Snow Bunting here.  I don't know what the draw is exactly, but while most Western Meadowlarks tend to leave the state in winter, this is one area where I always seem to find them, no matter how cold it gets. 

But it's the winter raptors that are the draw here!!   As I stated previously, summer birding is unremarkable in the area, and I won't discuss it here, except to say that you have the chance to see most of the typical grassland species found in this part of the state. 

Other Birding Locations (sorted by distance):


Bird Photos from the Presho Area

Ring-necked Pheasant - Phasianus colchicus Sharp-tailed Grouse - Tympanuchus phasianellus Bald Eagle - Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Ring-necked Pheasant Sharp-tailed Grouse Bald Eagle
Red-tailed Hawk - Buteo jamaicensis Rough-legged Hawk - Buteo lagopus Ferruginous Hawk - Buteo regalis
Red-tailed Hawk Rough-legged Hawk Ferruginous Hawk
Golden Eagle - Aquila chrysaetos Merlin - Falco columbarius Gyrfalcon - Falco rusticolus
Golden Eagle Merlin Gyrfalcon
Prairie Falcon - Falco mexicanus Snowy Owl - Bubo scandiacus Short-eared Owl - Asio flammeus
Prairie Falcon Snowy Owl Short-eared Owl