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Hilton Head's Wildlife Encounters: Birdwatching and Nature Tours

By Hilton Head Insider

It’s more than just beach-goers and adventure-seekers who flock to the pristine natural beauty of Hilton Head Island’s landscape. Over 200 species of feathered friends make their home here in the Lowcountry’s sandy coastlines, lush green forests, and protected wetlands. Whether you’re a beginner birder or a long-time enthusiast, you’ll discover a dream bird-watching destination on Hilton Head Island.

Birds of a Feather

Some of Hilton Head Island’s best views are found in the treetops or wading along the shore. Nearly 200 species of birds live near the lakes, marshes, and shoreline of Hilton Head Island — and more than 350 species of native birds have been sighted here over the last decade. The more common species you’ll spot during your birdwatching adventures include egrets, sandpipers, wood storks, seagulls, pelicans, large blue herons, and osprey eagles.

Birding & Nature Tours

Take in the natural splendor of Hilton Head Island and get acquainted with the diversity of its wild inhabitants on a wildlife viewing tour. Beyond magnificent bird species, you’ll have the opportunity to see dolphins, manatees, loggerhead sea turtles, bobcats, deer, and more on tours by land and water. 

Cruise down beautiful Broad Creek on a Dolphin & Nature Cruise to see Atlantic bottlenose dolphins and jumping stingrays along with a variety of shorebirds — including egrets, pelicans, and bald eagles. Or, opt for a more hands-on experience with Island Skiff boat tours. These all-season tours allow you to drive a two-person skiff boat to serene undeveloped islands on a 25–30-mile adventure.

Interested in a self-guided birdwatching excursion? Rent a kayak from Hilton Head Outfitters and explore the 11-mile lagoon system throughout the Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort. It’s the perfect place to spot one of the Lowcountry's most iconic birds — the great blue heron, a wading bird often found in shallow waters.

man and child kayaking

The Best Birdwatching Spots on Hilton Head Island

Audubon Newhall Preserve

This 50-acre protected preserve is home to a series of interconnected trails and an observation deck overlooking a pond for wildlife viewing.  On Tuesday mornings, the preserve offers complimentary guided tours led by a master birder. While exploring, be on the lookout for the brown-headed nuthatch, red-shouldered hawk, red-bellied woodpecker, and warblers.

Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn

Take a leisurely stroll around the Coastal Discovery Museum’s majestic 68-acre property — a Hilton Head Island  jewel — home to salt marshes, vast green spaces, and forests dotted with stately mossy oaks. Take a guided tour or explore at your own pace as you watch for ibis, osprey, kingfishers, and hawks.

Fish Haul Creek Park & Mitchelville Freedom Park

No matter what time of year you visit Hilton Head Island, a self-guided stroll or private tour through Fish Haul Creek Park and Mitchelville Freedom Park will almost guarantee sightings of shorebirds, such as plovers and sandpipers, on the sandy dunes. For optimal viewing, visit two hours before or after high tide.

Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge

A birdwatching trip to the Lowcountry isn’t complete without exploring Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, boasting over 14 miles of trails for hiking, biking, or simply soaking in the sights and sounds of nature. Its salt marshes and tidal creeks are home to a diverse array of bird species, including waterfowl, shorebirds, wading birds, raptors, and neotropical migratory birds. This refuge is also one of the best places in South Carolina to see breeding, yellow-crowned night herons.

birds flying low over the water

Birdwatching Packing List

One of the best things about birdwatching is that you won’t need to bring much beyond binoculars! Still, you’ll want to make the most of your open-air adventures with the right gear. Use this packing list as your go-to guide before venturing into the great outdoors.

  • Binoculars: Binoculars are your birdwatching best friend and are essential for spotting birds from a safe distance.
  • Bird Guidebook: A guide to common bird species can enrich your birdwatching experience, though many Hilton Head Island trails feature kiosks and signage to help you distinguish your hawks from your herons.
  • Insect Repellent and Sunscreen: Protect your skin while you explore.
  • Comfortable Shoes: Wear sturdy, comfortable footwear to navigate trails with ease.
  • Water and Snacks: Stay hydrated and energized during your excursion — especially for longer adventures.
  • Notebook: Many birdwatchers enjoy recording notes about interesting sightings and experiences.

The Call of the Wild

Whether you’re planning a dedicated birding adventure or incorporating birdwatching into your trips, there’s no place to glimpse unforgettable scenery and wildlife quite like America's Favorite Island®. Start planning your getaway today.

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