Meet the World Campion Tourists

Meet the World Campion Tourists

Red Knot's migration route. Illustration by Todd Ballantine

Red Knot's migration route. Illustration by Todd Ballantine

They come every year, like clockwork, always in spring. It is ritual, a great physical right of passage. No, I am not talking about spring break revelers on our Hilton Head Island shores. The epic travelers here are even more colorful, more driven by raging hormones, and more courageous. They are the “Neotropical” migratory birds—songbirds, shorebirds, raptors (hawks, kites and vultures) and several species of ducks. They have wintered in Mexico, the Caribbean isles, or Central and South America, and are winging northward to breeding grounds in the northeastern U.S., Canada and the arctic tundra.

For those who grouse about flight delays or the boredom of road trips, consider the sky miles logged by these Neotropical travelers:
• The red knot, a shorebird, migrates nearly 10,000 miles north to breed and flies another 10,000 miles back to Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego for the winter.
• The nighthawk, a great hunter of moths and mosquitoes in the Island’s summer skies (listen for its call: “speeb!”) migrates 3,000-7,000 miles, round-trip.
• The beautifully colored painted bunting, much sought by Hilton Head Island birdwatchers, wings as far as 3,000 miles, each way.

THIS ISLAND REFUGE
Hilton Head Island is known for its 250-plus species of birds, and many are Neotropical migrants. Why this grand diversity?
• The big Island: Hilton Head Island is the second largest island on the East Coast—34 square miles in area, second only to Long Island, NY in overall size. This Island offers significant space and seclusion for all manner of birds.
• Location, location: Nestled back in the Georgia Bight—the concave coastline of the great basin of the Southeast Coast, Hilton Head Island offers refuge for birds seeking to escape harsh ocean weather.
• Our diverse landscape: The Island offers high ground forest, freshwater wetlands, numerous lakes and ponds, salt marshes and tidewater streams, wide beaches, tidal pools, and dunes. Each native habitat provides prey species (for the red knot: horseshoe crab eggs) that sustain migratory birds in their epic journeys.

A PLACE FOR MIGRATORY BIRDS
Modern Hilton Head Island was built on the ethos of conservation. In the early 1950s the original developers committed to preserve significant natural open space to buffer the influx of new roads, homes, and commercial buildings. The Town of Hilton Head Island advanced this ideal since the 1980s. This open space now provides short-stay refuge for migratory birds and many permanent Island species.
So now, when you visit the Island beaches, cast your fishing line in a still lagoon or guide your kayak through prairie of rustling marsh grass, watch the sky. Listen for the chirp of distant voices. The Neotropical visitors, those wings on the wind, will soon take flight, many miles to keep.
They come every year, like clockwork, always in spring. It is ritual, a great physical right of passage. No, I am not talking about spring break revelers on our Hilton Head Island shores. The epic travelers here are even more colorful, more driven by raging hormones, and more courageous. They are the “Neotropical” migratory birds—songbirds, shorebirds, raptors (hawks, kites and vultures) and several species of ducks. They have wintered in Mexico, the Caribbean isles, or Central and South America, and are winging northward to breeding grounds in the northeastern U.S., Canada and the arctic tundra.

For those who grouse about flight delays or the boredom of road trips, consider the sky miles logged by these Neotropical travelers:
• The red knot, a shorebird, migrates nearly 10,000 miles north to breed and flies another 10,000 miles back to Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego for the winter.
• The nighthawk, a great hunter of moths and mosquitoes in the Island’s summer skies (listen for its call: “speeb!”) migrates 3,000-7,000 miles, round-trip.
• The beautifully colored painted bunting, much sought by Hilton Head Island birdwatchers, wings as far as 3,000 miles, each way.