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Every season brings fresh opportunities for bird watching in the Pierre area, with diverse native species occupying local woods, prairies and wetlands. The area is also an important corridor for many varieties of migratory birds. The bald eagle is one of several threatened and endangered species seen in the Pierre area; others include the burrowing owl, prairie falcon, interior least tern and the piping plover.

Late fall and winter offer excellent birding at Oahe Dam.

The best birding in the Oahe Downstream Recreation Area is found in late spring through summer and late fall through winter along the shore of the Missouri River and the Cottonwood Path hiking trail. The park is the only known South Dakota breeding location of Chuck-Will’s-Widow, a species of nightjar.

Oahe Downstream is also one of the best state parks for viewing bald eagles, which often perch high in trees along the riverbank and nest in the area from November to February. Observe the birds’ roosting sites from the road only; bald eagles are sensitive to human interference and may abandon a roost if disturbed. You’ll know if you’ve gotten too close — the birds make a guttural barking sound when they feel threatened by humans.

The Exploration Nature Trail at Farm Island Recreation Area offers good viewing opportunities from late April through early June, as a variety of small migrants — vireos, thrushes, warblers and sparrows — pass through the area. Warbler migration peaks in mid-May, and by the end of the month Farm Island’s summer residents have arrived: yellow- and black-billed cuckoos, least and great crested flycatchers, Bell’s vireo, black-headed and blue grosbeaks, the spotted towhee, the yellow-breasted chat, the indigo bunting and the green heron.

Held on weekends throughout the year, the Walk in the Park series of guided, educational hikes takes participants through Oahe Downstream, Farm Island, LaFramboise Island and other state parks to learn about local birds and other wildlife. The walks are led by parks staff and volunteers. Topics scheduled for 2008 include bald eagles, owls and identifying various local birds.

For more information about Walks in the Park or birding in state parks, visit the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Web site, www.sdgfp.info.