Birds

Jewel Cave National Monument is home to several species of birds throughout the year. Hiking trails on the surface give birders a wonderful opportunity to view a diverse selection of birds from red-headed woodpeckers along the Canyons Trail, to the white-breasted nuthatch on the Roof Trail. Depending on the time of day and year you chose to visit Jewel Cave, you can always find some feathered friends flying about. The most commonly seen birds are listed below. To see a full list of the species found at Jewel Cave, visit NPSpecies.
 

Year Round Residents

 
Brown speckled bird with ear tufts
This large owl is rarely seen at the monument, but often hear by Park Rangers at night.

NPS Photo / Robbie Hannawacker

Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)

Known for their ear tuffs, the Great Horned Owl is one of North America’s largest owls. Living across the entirety of the United States, they vary in color by geographic region. At the monument, they showcase a pale grayish color and the typical bright yellow eyes. Usually heard and not seen, you may hear their classic hoo hoo HOO hoo hoo.

 
Bird with black head on tree branch
Black Capped Chickadees are common throughout the monument.

NPS Photo / Gary Hartley

Black-Capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)

Along with its gray back and white/tan underbelly, this small songbird was named for its distinctive black cap and white cheeks. Black-capped chickadees are commonly seen at the monument hopping between small tree branches and foraging for insects on the bark surface. Much like squirrels, these birds store seeds in several different locations and later return to them.

 
Grey bird with white belly on tree branch
White-breast nuthatches are common along the Canyons Trail.

NPS Photo

White-Breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)

Commonly referred to as “upside down birds”, nuthatches display the unique behavior of moving up and down vertical surfaces headfirst. The white-breasted nuthatch is the largest nuthatch species at the monument and is characterized by a gray-blue back, white underbelly, and black cap (gray in females) that resembles a hood. This species can be found foraging up and down the pine trees at the monument.

 
Grey bird with red belly on a rock
The rust-colored underbelly gives this species it's name.

NPS Photo

Red-Breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis)

Similar in appearance to the white-breasted nuthatch, this species is distinguished by a rust-colored underbelly. The red-breasted nuthatch additionally has a broad, black eye line with a white line directly above it. These birds may be seen collecting resin from ponderosa pines and plastering it around the entrance to their nesting holes.

 
Yellow and brown speckled bird on branch
The pine siskin can blend into the forest quite well, but a flash of yellow can be seen from their wings as they take flight.

NPS Photo

Pine Siskin (Spinus pinus)

Although they can be seen year-round in the Black Hills, the pine siskin only inhabits the remainder of South Dakota during the non-breeding season (fall or winter). Small, they have a sharp bill and notched tail. The brown body is streaked with yellow feathers, but the head remains brown. They are mostly seen in pine trees or foraging for seeds.

 
Bird on branch with pine cone and needles
This male Red Crossbill is distinct with it's bright red body.

NPS Photo / Larry Putnam

Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra)

Known for their distinctly crossed bills, the crossbill is excellent at foraging conifer seeds. Found in trees, males and females differ in color. Adult males showcase a bright red body with hints of brown on their wings. In contrast, females have a yellow body with brown wings.

 
Black and white woodpecker on a tree trunk
These woodpeckers are often seen around the Historic Area.

NPS Photo / Nathan King

Hairy Woodpecker (Dryobates villosus)

Similar in appearance to the downy woodpecker, the hairy woodpecker is larger in size with a longer bill used for excavating in trees. Males and females both have a white stripe down the middle of their back and rows of white spots on their wings. Males can be distinguished from females via the red patch on the back of their head.

 
Grey bird with orange belly on branch
American Robins can be found commonly all throughout the park.

NPS Photo

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

A common backyard resident across most of North America, robins are a familiar sight to most visitors at Jewel Cave. These birds are distinguished by a dark back, a rusty orange breast, and a white throat with dark stripes. They are commonly seen running and hopping along the Roof Trail as well as around the outskirts of the parking lot at the monument.

 
Large bird with speckled chest on branch
Look for these distinct birds in the forested portions of the monument.

NPS Photo

Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)

Unlike many woodpeckers, northern flickers forage for most of their food on the ground and are often seen poking around fallen pine needles at the monument. These birds are distinctly patterned with a black-striped back, black-spotted breast, and black chest patch. Males additionally have a distinctive red facial marking. The monument is home to both red-shafted and yellow-shafted northern flickers, subspecies that differ slightly in coloration.

 
Blue and white bird on fence post
These birds are usually harder to see at the monument, but look for them along the Canyons Trail.

NPS Photo

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)

Common throughout the Midwest, South, and Eastern United States, the blue jay is usually heard before seen. Their most common vocalization is a jeer, a high-pitched scream that is often repeated. Blue feathers cover their crest, back and tail, while white cover their stomach and breast.

 

Spring and Summer Residents

 
bird with blue back and white belly on grey branch
Look for their swooping and diving as these swallows hunt insects above the Canyons trail.

NPS Photo

Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor)

Easily identified by their iridescent blue backs and white underbellies, tree swallows can be seen diving and gliding above Canyons Trail. Although these birds hunt for insects in open habitat, they are named for their tendency to roost within tree cavities. Female tree swallows are duller in color than males, but both sexes have a notched tail. In the spring and fall, these birds migrate in large flocks by the thousands.

 
Birds in mud nests
Cliff swallows build mud nests on the cliffs of Hell Canyon.

NPS Photo / Jacob W. Frank

Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota)

Where one cliff swallow is spotted, many others are likely nearby. These birds commonly flock in large groups and build colonies of mud nests on vertical surfaces, including the cliffs along Hell Canyon. Cliff swallows are characterized by a dark blue back, pale orange rump, and white underbelly. They additionally have a dark orange chin and a white forehead patch. Seen from below, this species can be distinguished from all other swallows at the monument by their square tail.

 
Gray bird on small twig
Look around along the Canyons Trail for these flycatchers.

NPS Photo / Larry Putnam

Western Wood-Peewee (Contopus sordidulus)

With a gray-brown back and white underbelly, the western wood-peewee can be difficult to distinguish from other flycatchers in the Black Hills. They are most easily identified by their white wing bars and lack of an eye ring. Commonly heard before seen, western wood-peewees are typically among the last songbirds to stop singing in the evening. These birds are most frequently spotted in open woodlands, and visitors may hear them clapping their bill as they defend their nest from predators.

 
Yellow & black bird with red head on branch
These colorful birds are a treat to see along the Roof Trail.

NPS Photo / Ingrid Arlton

Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana)

Among the most colorful birds found at the monument, western tanagers are easily identified by their bright yellow body, dark wings, and strong white wing bars. Additionally, males have a scarlet head. These birds are most commonly seen in the pine forest surrounding the monument’s visitor center. The Black Hills are situated along the easternmost summer range of the western tanager.

 
Bird with blue back and rust colored belly
These small birds are often seen along the break between forest and prairie.

NPS Photo

Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)

Sexually dimorphic, males are bright blue across their head, wings, and back, compared to females. This bright blue shines in contrast to the rusty color of their chest and throat. While females show blue and rusty coloration, it will be muted and have hints of gray blended on their head and back.

 
Blue bird on pine tree
If you see a flash of blue through the trees, it just might be a Mountain Bluebird.

NPS Photo / Jane Gamble

Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides)

The striking blue coloration of mountain bluebird sharply contrasts against the green and brown of the ponderosa pines. Males appear sky-blue, but most vibrant on their head, back and wings. Females and juveniles are gray with hints of brown, but blue shows on their wings and tail. Most commonly they are found nesting in tree cavities excavated by local woodpeckers.

 
Bird with black head, white belly, and rusty back
If you see leaves rustling on the ground, it may be this large sparrow on the hunt for food.

NPS Photo

Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus)

Commonly found on the ground searching through leaf litter for food, males and females showcase a slight color variation. Large sparrows with a long tail, males have a black head, throat, and upperparts, while females have a brown head, throat and upperparts. Both males and females have a white belly and white spots along their wings and back.

 
Black and white bird with red head on tree
Look for these distinct birds around the Historic Cabin.

NPS Photo

Red-Headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)

Rarely seen in winter, but common in summer, the red-headed woodpecker has a red head, neck, and throat. Distinct against their red feathers, you will see a white chest and black back. The wings are black with a large white patch on each, but when in flight or perched, the white shows as a band. Males and females do not differ in coloration, but juveniles have a brown head.

 
Large bird soaring in blue sky
If you see a large black bird soaring above Jewel Cave, it's most likely a Turkey Vulture.

NPS Photo / Larry Putnam

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)

Known for their bald red heads, these large birds commonly soar high in the sky riding thermal air currents. Although red, their legs can appear white if the bird urinates on itself to thermoregulate. When observed from below, you will see two-toned underwings and possibly their ivory bill. When not soaring, they are usually found feeding on carrion.

 

Fall and Winter Residents

 
gray bird on tree branch
As you hike through the monument in the fall, you may see a Townsend's solitaire defending it's territory.

NPS Photo

Townsend’s Solitaire (Myadestes townsendi)

Seen in the non-breeding season, the most prominent feature of this mid-sized thrush is their white eye ring. Gray in color, small patches of copper show on their wings. Juveniles appear dark gray, speckled with copper and white spots, giving the appearance of scales. During the winter months, both males and females are known for being extremely territorial and switching their diet from insects to berries.

Last updated: July 25, 2021

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

11149 U.S. Hwy. 16
Building B12

Custer, SD 57730

Phone:

(605) 673-8300
The main phone line connects visitors with staff at the visitor center. Throughout the year, the phone line is monitored by staff on a daily basis, excluding holidays and days with limited visitor services. Please be advised that after-hours messages are not taken on the system; visitors are encouraged to call the visitor center during normal operations and speak with a park ranger for assistance.

Contact Us