Wind Cave National Park, located in western South Dakota, encompasses 28,295 acres, according to the National Park Service's website. This park consists of mixed-grass prairies and pine woodlands, making it prime habitat for creatures such as elk, bison, mule deer and pronghorn antelope. In addition, many species of birds call this part of North America home. Some are permanent park residents, and others migrate back and forth according to the seasons, spending the summer months in the park and heading south when winter approaches.
The American kestrel (Falco sparverius) is a small falcon, about the size of a jaybird. The raptor, also called a sparrow hawk because of its diminutive size, is a colorful bird and a common species found in Wind Cave National Park. The park's habitat of open grasslands is a perfect fit for the bird and the park is in the southern summer range of the American kestrel. The kestrel, a combination of white, blue, buff, rust-orange and brown, is one of the few falcons that prefers to take its prey on the ground for the most part. The kestrel will sit on a high perch and spy any movement in the grass. The bird then descends quickly upon its victim, making short work of it with a sharp beak and powerful talons. The American kestrel eats small mammals such as rats, mice, shrews, ground squirrels and gophers, as well as other birds. Insects supplement the summer diet of this raptor, which must head south to avoid the harsh Dakota winters before returning in spring.
The killdeer (Charadrius vociferous) is a member of the plover family that exists across much of the nation. While at home on the shores of oceans, the killdeer also lives on the prairie, feasting on insects such as grasshoppers and eating worms, snails and other invertebrates. The killdeers in Wind Cave National Park typically arrive back to the park by April from their winter homes and you may observe them in numbers at the park's visitor center and on the various gravel roads that traverse the park. Killdeer have the rounded head and short beak typical of plovers, are brown above and whitish underneath and their call of "kill-deer" gives them their odd name. The species will lure a predator or a perceived threat from its nest of eggs or young by acting as if it has a broken wing. The bird flops about and away from the nest until it feels the nest is safe and then flies away to save itself.
Wind Cave National Park is on the eastern edge of the black-billed magpie's (Pica hudsonia) permanent range. This species is easily recognizable by its black and white colors, lengthy tail and dark black bill. The black-billed magpie nests in shrubs and small trees on the prairie and subsists on insects, small mammals, the young of other birds, berries, nuts and carrion. Black-billed magpies construct an elaborate nest comprised of sticks, mud and grasses, formed like a dome with openings on either aide. The black-billed magpie is a highly intelligent bird that has the ability to imitate the human voice. In the wild, it frequently lands on large mammals and cleans the ticks off them. Considered pests for their habits of raiding orchards and taking the eggs of poultry, the black-billed magpie helps to control insect and rodent populations, according to the "National Audubon Society Field Guide to Birds."