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Fun Facts About Wildlife on Hilton Head Island

Birds – There are 200+ birds in the Hilton Head Island area! Two great locations for spotting avian wildlife are the Sea Pines Forest Preserve, a 600-acre plot of land that is protected from development as a wildlife refuge and the 4,000-acre Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge right over the first bridge.

My favorite bird to spot is the Roseate Spoonbill. Their rose-colored feathers and long spoon shaped beak are quite a sight! Roseates migrate to the Lowcountry during spring and summer months.

White-tailed deer – Did you know HHI has its own subspecies indigenous to the island? “Odocoileus virgianus hiltonesis” is the scientific name. Deer are abundant here, so drive carefully at dusk and during the nighttime.

Horseshoe crabs – I found it intriguing to learn that these arthropods (no, they are not crustaceans) are harvested for their blood. Their blood is used in biological research because it is very sensitive to bacteria and is used to detect impurities in drugs. Horseshoe crabs harvested for their blood are tapped and returned to the water none the worse for wear.

Bottle-nose dolphin – one of the few places on earth where dolphins routinely use a technique called “strand feeding” whereby schools of fish are herded up onto mud banks, and the dolphins lie on their side while they feed before sliding back into the water.

Alligators – the female lays between 20-60 eggs and remains nearby for up to 65 days while they incubate. She defends them for up to a year after birth. If you see a baby or juvenile alligator, that means there is a mama nearby somewhere!

Marsh tackies – a horse with a history of more than 400 years in South Carolina, sturdy descendants of the Spanish explorers stock and used in the Revolutionary War, as farm animals by the Gullah people and still seen near Bluewater Resort & Marina and Mitchellville beach on Hilton Head.

Bobcat – yes we still have some very elusive bobcats that keep to the dense forest areas of the island and Lowcountry, most often the preserves and undeveloped portions of land. Our Bluffton high school mascot rightly was named after this island native. Also stealthily working the edges of lagoons and lakes in developments just before dawn.

Loggerhead turtle – These massive turtles grow up to four feet in length and about 400 pounds. An endangered species protected by federal law, the females come ashore at night between May-October to lay their eggs. Beach houses and villas are to turn out all beach facing lights during the night hours during loggerhead season.

Cobia – these large apex predators give anglers a hearty battle! These are prized catches partially due to the tenacity it takes to reel one in. Local fishermen speak of 100 pound cobias though the South Carolina state record is 92 pounds.

Velvet ants – found only on Pinckney Island these are large ants covered with red “fur”. These aren’t actually ants but are wingless female wasps that can be found on own in sandy areas in summer months. They pack quite a sting and are nicknamed “cow killer” though highly doubtful these “velvet ants” can kill a cow.

Turkeys – Yes these slow and not so beautiful birds can be seen ambling along here and there. Remember though, don’t feed the wildlife, including turkeys!

Bald eagle – largest bird of prey that live on the island. These make for quite a sight when they swoop through the trees and perch with their regal stance not far from you.

Manatees – These sea creatures grow up to 10 feet long and 1000 pounds and are nicknamed “Sea cows”. They aren’t as pretty as the dolphins but just as harmless and loveable. People like to put hoses in the water at marinas to attract them in the Spring but a lot of fresh water like that is not good for them.

Portly spider crab and cannonball jellies – These two island creatures share a symbiotic relationship. This type of crab literally crawls inside the cannonball jelly and eats the remains of fish that the jelly captures and can’t digest! Gross? Cool? Either way, amazing!

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