The Best Bird Watching on Hilton Head Island
With over 200 species of birds making their home here throughout the year, Hilton Head Island is a bird watcher’s dream destination. Even if you’re not an avid avian enthusiast, the volume and diversity of birds around Palmetto Dunes and across the island make for easy sightings and a fun way to explore around Hilton Head. Check out just a few birds you’re bound to see during your stay, and the best places to spot them.
Great Blue Heron (Ardea Herodias)
One of the most iconic birds on Hilton Head Island, the great blue heron makes its home here year-round. It’s the largest in the heron family, and is noted for its muted gray-blue body, yellow beak, and wide black stripe over its eye. You’ll often find these wading birds hanging out in tidal pools and along river banks at low tide. If you’re out on the water in a kayak or paddleboard, it’s a great way to spot these majestic birds.
Great Egret (Ardea Alba)
The Great Egret is really a member of the heron family, but has coloring distinctly different than that of its great blue counterpart—with long black legs, a snowy white body and an elegant, slender neck. Once hunted to near extinction in the late 1800s and early 1900s for its feathers to be used in ladies’ fashions, the great egret has made a comeback on Hilton Head Island thanks to preservation efforts. It’s even the symbol of the National Audubon Society!
Osprey (Pandion Haliaetus)
Also known as a fish hawk, the osprey is easy to spot as it’s the only bird of prey in the area that hovers while it hunts for food. Osprey hunt in both fresh and salt water, so it’s likely you’ll have the chance to take in this impressive feat for yourself. Diving talons first into the water, osprey will emerge with their catch pointing head first to make their flight as aerodynamic as possible.
Laughing Gull (Leucophaeus Atricilla)
This year-round resident of Hilton Head Island comes by its name honestly, with a call that distinctly sounds like human laughter. Found on beaches and in marshy areas, the laughing gull is easy to spot with its black head feathers that turn abruptly into white at its neck. Another bird that doesn’t find the laughing gull so funny is the brown pelican. Laughing gulls will often land on the larger bird’s head and snatch food right out of its bill pouch!
Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)
You’ll probably hear this red-headed woodpecker before you see it. Using their strong beaks to drill rectangular holes in trees around Hilton Head Island, the pileated woodpecker can definitely drum up some noise. They are one of the rarer bird sightings on the island, but their brilliant red crown and Mohawk-like tuft of feathers that extends down their neck makes them easy to spot among trees. The undulating, hill-shaped flight pattern of the pileated woodpecker is also unique, and differentiates if from the common crow—which it can be mistaken for from a distance.
Best Bird Watching Locations
The Audubon Society of Hilton Head Island recommends the following locations to make for successful bird sighting encounters.
Fish Haul Creek Park
Just four miles east of Hilton Head Island Bridge on US 278, the park is one of the best areas for viewing shorebirds from late summer through to early spring.
Sea Pines Forest Preserve
Designated as an Important Birding Area in South Carolina, a $5 entry fee gives you access to 605 acres of nature trails, boardwalks, forests, lakes and observation decks at the south end of the island. The best times of year to go are spring and fall.
Pickney Island National Wildlife Refuge
This expansive wildlife refuge is home to fourteen miles of trails and diverse landscapes that allow for sighting a wide range of bird species from wading birds to shorebirds, and many more.
Of course, one of our favorite locations is right here in Palmetto Dunes Lagoon! Whether you’re out kayaking, or canoeing, or on a fishing trip, you’re bound to see one of these birds native to Hilton Head. Stop by Hilton Head Outfitters to get geared up for an outdoor adventure and see what birds you can spot.