1. Lights out for turtles!
Endangered loggerhead turtles nest extensively along our island’s 12 miles of beautiful sandy beaches. Though you should never interact with a turtle, spotting one from afar will take your breath away.
Adult turtles can weigh up to 400 lb and can live to more than 100 years old. It’s our responsibility to do everything possible to ensure loggerhead turtles can safely lay their eggs year after year. The Hilton Head Island Sea Turtle Protection Project staff patrol the beach early each morning during nesting season and document the process.
During nesting and hatching season (the beginning of May until the end of October), houses and buildings visible from the beach turn off outdoor lights and close blinds or drapes at 10:00 p.m. The darkness helps turtles navigate, as they use the moonlight reflecting off the ocean’s surface to move towards the water. Inward brighter lights can disorient turtles.
If you’re interested in learning more, pay a visit to the Coastal Discovery Museum. The Museum offers seasonal Evening Turtle Talks and Beach Discovery Tours. Interested in helping the sea turtles from afar? Learn more about the Hilton Head Island Sea Turtle Protection Project’s “Adopt-A-Nest” program here.
2. Birds: Gotta Watch ‘Em All
Birdwatchers love Hilton Head Island! Why? Our protected wetlands are home to beautiful birds like osprey, bald eagles, sandpipers, pelicans, egrets, wood storks, and more. In fact, the Audubon Society says there have been more than 350 species of native birds sighted on Hilton Head Island in the last decade, and nearly 200 species flock here each year.
One of the most iconic birds of the Lowcountry is the Great Blue Heron. Rent a kayak from Hilton Head Outfitters and try to spot some while you kayak the 11-mile lagoon system throughout the Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort! The wading birds are often found in shallow waters, so your chances of spotting a heron are good.
Join the Coastal Discovery Museum on their Birding at Pinckney Island tour or visit the Hilton Head Island Audubon Society’s website to learn more about the Hilton Head Island Birding Trail.
3. See you later, alligator!
Hilton Head Island’s lagoons and creeks are also home to alligators. In fact, American Alligators are native to South Carolina and have been here for millions of years! You’re most likely to spot alligators during spring and fall when they can be found sunning themselves on lagoon banks. They can grow up to 12 feet in length! During the hot summer months, most alligators stay cool by staying in the water. Keep your eyes peeled, and you might spot their eyes and nostrils as you bike along the many lagoons lining our island-wide, bike trail system! Alligators become dormant during winter months and build mud dens along the banks of the lagoons.
If you want to snap a photo of an alligator, be sure to use that zoom lens. Alligators on Hilton Head Island are not aggressive but can be dangerous if approached or provoked. Stay back and never feed the alligators!
Follow these guidelines when around alligators:
- Never feed alligators, it’s both unsafe and illegal
- Keep your distance when you see an alligator (no selfies!)
- Keep pets on leashes when near alligators or lagoons
If seeing an alligator is on your Hilton Head Island bucket list, H2O Sports offers an hour-long guided tour of the freshwater lakes at the Sea Pines Resort Forest Preserve. If you want to see and experience what Hilton Head Island was like unpopulated, and untouched, then this excursion is for you!
4. Tell Your Own Dolphin Tale
Bottlenose dolphins swim along the shores of Hilton Head Island, especially during the summer. They’re friendly, intelligent animals that often come right up to boats to say hi. Should you be lucky enough to get close to these beautiful creatures, remember that feeding dolphins is illegal and carries a hefty fine. Snap away with those cameras, but remember to let these lovely creatures continue to hunt naturally for their meals so they can continue to amaze us all!
Bottlenose dolphins are very social and usually live in pods of up to 12 members. They use noises like clicks, squeaks, and whistles, as well as body language, to communicate with one another. Every dolphin has a signature whistle that distinguishes him or her from others.
The Coastal Discovery Museum and several marina and tour operators offer dolphin-watching cruises. Don’t forget to pack your camera!
5. Saddle up!
There are plenty of fun ways to take in the great outdoors and spot animals in their natural habitats. Lawton Stables’ offers guided horseback trail rides through the Sea Pines Forest Preserve. Or, consider a hayride or walking tour.
Since 1970, the Sea Pines Forest Preserve has been a protected area for wildlife habitat and outdoor exploration. Don’t miss the 4,000-year-old Indian Shell Ring, the Warner W. Plahs Wildflower Field, and the boardwalk through Vanishing Swamp.
What other animals can be found on Hilton Head Island? Deer, bobcats (though elusive), otters, and even a few wild boars reside on the island. The Hilton Head White-Tailed Deer is a subspecies of white-tailed deer indigenous to the island. Visitors love visiting Callie the Deer at the Lawton’s Stables petting zoo!
Now you’re all set to experience the wonderful wildlife of Hilton Head Island. See you soon!