Lacreek National Wildlife Refuge
Mountain-Prairie Region

Wildlife at Lacreek National Wildlife Refuge

Lacreek National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is a place of constant change. Changing seasons bring dramatic variations of temperatures, precipitation, day length, and plant growth. As the seasons change, so do the species and abundance of wildlife present on the refuge. Spring (March-May) rushes in as the ice and snow melts and the days begin to lengthen. Northern pintails are the sentinals of spring here. When the first drake pintails arrive in late February, spring is around the corner. In some years, winter gives way readily and by March the temperatures are mild and many early season plants begin to green up. Other years, winter hangs on well into April. It is certain, however, that spring will bring many migratory birds to the refuge that stop to feed and rest before moving on. Some will stay to nest and raise young. Resident species respond to the changes as well. Large concentrations of white-tailed deer, ring-necked pheasants, and sharp-tailed grouse begin to disperse from the refuge to surrounding private lands. Some hibernating species, such as thirteen-lined ground squirrels awake from their slumber.

By early June, spring has faded into summer (June-August). Spring migration is complete, and the species that remain are busy raising young. Plants actively grow through the summer months, producing the vegetation, seeds, and tubers that will feed the wildlife that visit the refuge until the next year. Summer begins to fade into fall (September-October) during the month of September. Some years, the heat of summer remains till the end of September and some years the cooler fall temperatures arrive in early to mid September. The fall migrants begin to move ahead of the winter that is to come. The first trumpeter swans arrive in September when their cygnets (young of the year) learn to fly. The first snow of the season signals the arrival of winter (November-February). Many of the migratory bird species have moved on. Some species, such as mallards, Canada geese, bald eagles, and rough legged hawks arrive to spend the long winter with us.


Short eared owlThe concentration of wetland, grassland, and cropland found on and adjacent to Lacreek NWR provides habitat for a very diverse bird population. A total of 282 different bird species have been recorded at Lacreek NWR since 1959. The majority of bird species common to the Great Plains can be found here, along with some unique species for South Dakota. Trumpeter swans were released at Lacreek in the early 1960s. A high count of 386 was recorded in November of 2007, with 100 to 300 typically present from October through March. Lacreek NWR is one of the few places in South Dakota where you may hear both an eastern and a western meadowlark while standing in the same location. American bitterns are commonly observed at Lacreek NWR from April through September. Fifty-one species of waterfowl, pelicans, cormorants, herons, and ibises use the refuge for migration and/or nesting. Fourty-four species of rails, plovers, turnstones, sandpipers, stilts and gulls have been documented on the refuge. Of those, 16 species nest here. Twenty-five species of hawks, falcons, eagles, and owls hunt the refuge's abundant prey base. Lacreek NWR is a great place to see many of the Great Plains representative bird species along with a chance for some unique ones. For a complete list of bird species, check out our bird list.
tom bitternMarsh wren Yellow headed blackbirds



The habitat provided at Lacreek NWR supports a wide diversity of mammals that are commonly found on the Great Plains. The refuges wetlands host species such as muskrat, beaver, mink, short-tailed and long-tailed weasel, raccoon, white-tailed deer, and meadow voles. The grasslands support species such as mule deer, black-tailed prairie dog, badger, deer mice, Ord's kangaroo rat, white-tailed jackrabbit, thirteen-lined ground squirrel, and coyote.

For a complete list of mammals found at Lacreek NWR, see our species list.

Short tailed weasel and muskrat



The springs which flow through the refuge support the pearl dace and northern redbelly dace. Both of these species are listed by the State of South Dakota as State Threatened and are a unique refuge resource. The Trout Ponds support rainbow trout which are stocked twice each year for a recreational fisheries. The Little White River Recreation Area was drawn down and renovated in 2007. It has been restocked with channel catfish, yellow perch, bluegill, large mouth bass, northern pike, and walleye in 2008. The remainder of the refuges wetlands are managed for migratory birds and are periodically drawn down and allowed to dry out in the summer months. This limits the number and species which survive. Common carp, black bullhead, and fat head minnows are some of the only species which can find limited locations to survive the drawdowns and repopulate the wetlands when filled again. These three fish species are a common prey item for the many species of heron, egret, bittern, grebe, pelican, cormorant, merganser, goldeneye, tern, and eagle found using the refuges wetlands.

For a complete list of fish found at Lacreek NWR, see our species list.

Select areas of the refuge are open to recreational fishing (see recreational opportunities for details).



Many species of damselfly can be found at Lacreek NWR during the summer months
Tom Koerner: USFWS

monarch butterfly

The monarch is perhaps the most recognized butterfly in America
Tom Koerner: USFWS


Many species of mayfly can be found at Lacreek NWR during the summer months
Tom Koerner USFWS


A diverse array of insects typically found in prairie and wetland environments are present at Lacreek NWR. Many of our management practices include increasing or maintaining our abundance of insects for prairie and wetland birds as a management objective. Research has shown that insects as prey items play a key dietary role for birds that allow for egg laying, feather replacement, and muscle tissue growth. Reseeding a diverse mix of grassland plant species provides more opportunities for insects to complete lifecycles. Managing our wetlands through prescribed grazing and burning, seeding a diverse mix of native plants, and water level manipulations increases the amount of desireable plant material available for aquatic insects to feed on and complete lifecycles.

Butterflies are a diverse group of insects that are often very noticeable. There have been 47 species of butterflies documented on Lacreek NWR. Many are attracted to showy wildflowers such as milkweed and goldenrods. Many are tiny and rarely noticed, living out their lifecycles in upland grasslands. A few, such as the regal fritillary, are uncommon and are only found on unbroken tracts of native prairies. See our Butterfly Species List for a complete listing.

Reptiles and Amphibians:

northern prairie lizard

A northern prairie lizard captured in a pit-fall trap along a drift fence in the sandhills

lesser earless lizard

Lesser earless lizards can be seen in blow-outs in the sandhills


The Northern Great Plains long cold winters limit the abundance and diversity of reptile and amphibian species which can survive here. A number of snakes live here due to the abundant prey base. Prairie rattlesnakes prefer the open ground of the black-tailed prairie dog towns and often retreat into a burrow to escape the heat of the day. They generally avoid the wetlands and denser vegetation of the uplands that the bullsnake prefers. The plains garter snake is common throughout the refuge. Other species include the hognose snake and the green racer. Lizards are a rare sight at Lacreek NWR. The sandhills portion of the refuge, however, supports lesser earless lizard, prairie lizard, and many-lined skink, species generally only found in the sandhills portion of the South Dakota. Several species of frogs can be heard more often than they are seen. The boreal chorus frog, northern leopard frog, bullfrog, and plains spadefoot are the most common. The painted turtle and the snapping turtle are found in the refuges wetlands. They survive the winter by burrowing into one of the many springs and seeps.

For a complete list of reptiles and amphibians found at Lacreek NWR, see our species list.

Endangered Species:

The federally endangered whooping crane migration corridor passes over Lacreek NWR. Whooping cranes have been documented using the refuges wet meadows in recent years during both the spring and fall migration. They generally stay only one night and then continue on. The federally threatened American burying bettle was documented as occurring in Bennett County in 2007. Past surveys of the refuge have not detected this species. Suitable habitat and the nearby sighting makes it likely that American burying beetles may be found on the refuge and have yet to be detected.

The federally endangered western prairie fringed orchid has not been detected in past refuge surveys. Suitable habitat exists, and it is possible that it is present at such a low frequency that it has not been detected. Future surveys are planned.

The state of South Dakota maintains a threatened and endangered species list as well. It designates species of concern that occur in low numbers or in restricted habitats. The bald eagle is listed as state threatened. Lacreek has one nesting pair that has successfully fledged at least one eaglet in 2006 and 2007. Up to 100 bald eagles may be present during December - March when large concentrations of waterfowl or winter killed fish are present. The osprey is listed as state threatened. Osprey are rarely sighted at Lacreek NWR. Peregrine falcons are listed as state endangered. A half dozen or more sightings are recorded on the refuge each fall and each spring. Peregrines usually are spotted hunting shorebirds or teal on the refuge. Piping plovers are listed as state threatened. They are rarely sighted on the refuge during migration. The swift fox is listed as state threatened. Although swift fox releases have been made to the west of Lacreek NWR, only one probable sighting has been documented on the refuge.

As was mentioned in the fish section, the pearl dace and northern redbelly dace are state listed as threatened in South Dakota and both can be found in Lacreek's spring fed streams.

Visit the South Dakota Ecological Services Field Office Web Site

Last updated: November 2, 2012