Your Guide to Hilton Head Island’s Diverse Wildlife
Hilton Head Island was recently voted #1 Island in the Continental U.S. by Travel & Leisure magazine – with over 12 miles of sunny beaches, hundreds of fantastic restaurants and bars, and picturesque landscapes. The lowcountry is also home to an abundance of wildlife – from the iconic American alligator, to the elegant Great Egret. A trip to Hilton Head is the perfect time to enjoy nature, and spot some beautiful animals in their natural habitats. Here you’ll find details about the local critters, where to go for the best views, and a fun checklist for the whole family to keep track of what you’ve seen!
Probably the most mysterious and exciting creature on Hilton Head, is the American Alligator – lurking and sunbathing around golf courses and lagoons. Alligators are cold-blooded reptiles, hanging out in the water to keep cool in the summers, and coming out to sunbathe for warmth during the fall and spring. Because of that, fall and spring are the best times to catch a glimpse of an alligator, but you can still spot them in the summer if you’re lucky. The alligators on Hilton Head will generally keep to themselves as long as they are not bothered, however they are still predators with incredibly strength and speed – so visitors are urged to take precautions and keep their distance!
Pelicans, Ospreys, & Great Egrets
While there are hundreds of varieties of birds on the island, these three are probably the most memorable. It won’t be hard to spot a flock of pelicans at the beach – keep an eye out for a pelican hunting for fish out on the water! Ospreys, beautiful birds of prey, are also native to the island. One osprey family has built a nest on the Cross Island Parkway right on top of the Gum Tree Road/278 exit, and you can get lucky and drive by right when the osprey is landing or taking off. The Great Egret (also called a White Heron), is an iconic Hilton Head Island bird. Known for it’s large, elegant white body, you can spot the great egret in shallow tide pools, marshland and lagoons. Make sure to keep your camera ready in case they decide to take flight!
Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin
A Hilton Head favorite – the beautiful bottlenose dolphin! You can spot these friendly swimmers diving in the distance from the beach, or up close and personal from a boat or kayak. Dolphins are curious and playful creatures and are known to approach boats and kayaks to interact, say hello, and ask for food. While it’s fun to engage with the dolphins, do not feed them! Feeding them can change their natural habits and behaviors over time and cause problems for both the dolphins and the locals.
For more information on a Family-Friendly Dolphin Cruise, visit www.dafuskiefreeport.com
One of the easiest critters to spot is the common green lizard, or “Carolina Anole”! (Pictured left) These little lizards are everywhere and are totally harmless. Some will let you pick them up and pet them, but it’s not encouraged because they’re quite scared of people! In an effort to get away they will even leave their tail behind and it will eventually grow back. Also quite common is the skink lizard (pictured right). These are a little spookier looking, but still very beautiful. Skinks are harmless as well, and are actually a helpful critter to have around as they eat insects you may not want flying around the pool or yard.
Hilton Head Island is home to many turtles, yellow-bellied sliders (pictured), loggerhead sea turtles, and diamond back terrapins. The most common and easy to spot are the yellow-bellied sliders, often found sunning themselves in one of the island’s many lagoons. Most resorts and hotels on the island have at least a few little guys swimming around. They have very distinctive yellow patterned bellies (hence the name!), and spend their days sunbathing, swimming and sleeping.
Like most wildlife – look, but don’t touch! Turtles can carry a lot of dangerous germs and bacteria, including salmonella… And that’s no fun on vacation.
Learn more about how you can help protect loggerhead sea turtles: http://www.hiltonheadislandsc.gov/publications/brochures/loggerheadseaturtlebrochure.pdf
These beauties are everywhere – seriously everywhere – so much so that there is a lively debate surrounding their overpopulation. To the locals dismay they love to snack on perfectly manicured flowerbeds! They are pretty magnificent creatures – and are definitely a sight to see. You can catch them in any woodsy areas, particularly on one of Hilton Head’s nature trails. Be on the lookout when driving! Always be cautious of deer crossing.
These crustaceans are a Hilton Head staple – both in the water, and on the menu. Blue crabs are a special seafood treat – and are served at most of the seafood restaurants on the island. Fiddler crabs are small sand crabs found scurrying around most of the beaches at low tide, and are easily recognizable by their one small claw and one large claw. Both types of crabs will most likely avoid you, however if you get too close – they won’t be afraid to dish out a powerful pinch!
Now…Where to find all of these awesome creatures??
The Lowcountry Coastal Discovery Museum: http://www.coastaldiscovery.org/
Sea Pines Forest Preserve: Sea Pines Plantation
Audubon Newhall Preserve: www.hiltonheadaudubon.org
Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge: 843-686-9713