Hilton Head Birding

Hilton Head Island - Burkes Beach from airplane

Hilton Head Island - Burkes Beach and "the Folly" from a small plane ride that I took

Hilton Head Island in South Carolina is one of the most nature-friendly — and family-friendly — areas in the world. Hilton Head Island is 12 miles by 5 miles wide – the second largest island on the East coast of the US. It offers an assortment of outdoor activities and was also named as one of the top ten family beaches in the country. The Island is also a great place for a birdwatching vacation or relaxing getaway communing with nature. Protected wetlands, woods, and sandy beaches make Hilton Head a great place to watch both shorebirds and inland birds.

The attention given to the environment on Hilton Head Island has become the blueprint for many other “green” developments around the country. While you’re on Hilton Head Island, you might notice the absence of bright streetlights, tall buildings (nothing more than tree-top in height!) and flamboyantly-painted buildings crowding onto the beaches. This is the result of a deliberate decision by the early developers of the island to make their development blend in and become a part of the environment rather than uproot and replace it.

You can get a good feel for the local appreciation for the environment while you pedal around on the 50 miles of public bike and nature trails – you can even ride on the beaches (best done at low tide when there is more room for everyone!) The relaxed, warm attitude found at Hilton Head Island keeps bringing visitors back, and many of the current residents (like us!) have moved here from “Up North” to enjoy it year-round.

For details on outdoor activities on Hilton Head Island, you can check out the Outdoor Adventures page on the Hilton Head Island Vacation & Visitor’s Guide as well as their listing of Hilton Head nature tours and guides.

Hilton Head Island nature preserves

There are no lack of nature preserves and birding areas on Hilton Head Island! According to the Hilton Head Island Audubon Society website,

It is possible to see about 200+ birds in the Hilton Head area over the course of a year. Beaches, marshes, lagoons, bike trails, harbors, docks, and golf courses throughout the island are areas for birding. Just be sure to observe all traffic, wildlife and no trespassing warnings – they mean it!

Here are a few of the places that you might want to check out as Hilton Head Island birdwatching venues.

Hilton Head Island Birding – South End

Palmetto Dunes and the Atlantic Beaches with Broad Creek in the background

Palmetto Dunes and the Atlantic Beaches with Broad Creek in the background

There are two dedicated nature preserves on the South end of Hilton Head Island along with two major bodies of water that provide great opportunities to see a wide variety of birds and other creatures:

  1. The Audubon Newhall Preserve, which is located along the south side of Palmetto Bay Road on the South End of Hilton Head Island, about halfway between the Sea Pines Circle and the Cross Island Expressway’s toll bridge over Broad Creek. It is primarily a 50 acre forest that also contains a small pond and even a “pocosin” or bog. Along with the usual woodland fauna, it is also home to a fair amount of bird life.
  2. The Sea Pines Forest Preserve, which is part of the Sea Pines Plantation Resort, allows you to walk (or bike) through the last remaining large tract of undisturbed land on Hilton Head Island. The Preserve has about 8 miles of trails that follow rice dikes built by slaves in the 1840s and old logging trails from the 1950s and protects 605 acres of mostly swamp, forest, and marsh land located in the midst of Sea Pines Plantation Resort. Some of the land that now makes up this preserve was once a rice plantation, the remains of which you can still see along some of the trails. Hundreds of years ago, it was home to a village of Native American Indians, who left the Indian Shell Ring — a reminder of their presence that remains here in the form of a large ring of shells.
  3. When most visitors think of Broad Creek and the Calibogue Sound, images of boat rides and dolphin cruises come to mind.  However, there are also a number of “nature” cruises and kayaking adventures available on both sides of the Broad Creek.  Some kayak rentals are available in the Shelter Cove harbor area (towards mid-island), while many others, included guided tours, embark from the other side of Broad Creek at the Broad Creek Marina located off Marshland Road.

Click on the following link to go a resource page with details on birdwatching on the South End of Hilton Head Island.

Hilton Head Island Birding – North End

Fish Haul Creek Park - Marsh view from boardwalk

Fish Haul Creek Park - Marsh view from boardwalk

Fish Haul Creek Park, Mitchellville Beach Park, and Baygall Field Park are the three parks at the northeast end of Hilton Head Island that provide access to the Port Royal Sound shoreline, the “Port Royal Flats” sandbars and mudflats where shorebirds congregate, and the nearby tidal salt marshes and maritime woodlands. These parks were developed and are maintained by the Town of Hilton Head Island, who did a good job of preserving the natural beauty while also providing good access to it.

Click on the following link to go a resource page with details on Birding at Fish Haul Creek Park, Mitchellville Beach Park, and Barker Field Park.