2021—On the Lookout in Prairie Dog Town

Wind Cave National Park, adjacent to Custer State Park in South Dakota, has a huge Prairie Dog Town that is on the edge of a dirt road. Photographing the Black-tailed Prairie Dog from a vehicle there is easy. Circular dirt mounds strewn throughout the native grass fields mark the entrances to Prairie Dog tunnels. But if you’re in doubt, Black-tailed Prairie Dogs spend much of their time on the lookout so they are visible here and there in the middle of the fields. They are small sentinels peeking out of their dens or standing rigid atop them. Their posture is upright and stiff when they’re on duty. They stare unmoving in one direction, then move their heads slightly but not their bodies as they scan the distance for something to worry about. We heard Coyotes howling in the distance so that may have been what had this dog’s attention. We also saw a Red-tailed Hawk grab a Prairie Dog one morning so their concerns are legitimate. When they determine the danger is gone, they signal with chatter or the whole body wave, then go about their business which is usually eating the grass that surrounds their dens.