Best places to bird watch on Hilton Head Island
Hilton Head Island is a friendly environment for birds of all varieties and sizes due to its luxuriant green forests, temperate weather, protected wetlands, and sandy shores. The Lowcountry is home to a wide variety of feathered friends, from iconic bald eagles to skilled osprey, sandpipers, and herons of nearly every variety.
The Audubon Society reports that nearly 200 different bird species make their homes in the lagoons, waterways, and shores of Hilton Head Island. More than 350 different bird species have been spotted on the island over the past 10 years.
A stroll along the beach or the waterways is sure to yield sightings or sounds from at least a few avian species, but if you’re a true birding enthusiast, certain Hilton Head locations serve as an oasis of opportunity for bird watchers:
- Audubon Newhall Preserve
- The Audubon Newhall Preserve is a donation-based nature center off Palmetto Bay Road that is open to the public at no cost. In 1976, the developers of Sea Pines Resort dedicated this 50-acre protected preserve to environmentalist Caroline “Beany” Newhall. The trails are open for guests to explore (with their pets) on their own or join a free guided walk every Tuesday morning from September to May. It is one of the few places left on Hilton Head where native vegetation, insects, reptiles, and birds can live in a natural setting. The red-bellied woodpecker, brown-headed nuthatch, and warblers are just a few of the birds you could encounter.
- Sea Pines Forest Preserve
- The plethora of birds, including songbirds, hawks, and owls, that call the 605-acre Sea Pines Forest Preserve home during the spring and fall migrations are just some of the species that make their way through the area each year. The Sea Pines Forest Preserve was established in 1970 to preserve a natural area that serves as a home for a variety of species and a destination for those who like spending time in the great outdoors. It has since been expanded to include fishing docks, hiking trails, and wetland boardwalks to give visitors more opportunities to enhance their nature-loving experience. Don’t forget to explore the National Register of Historic Places-recognized Sea Pines Shell Ring, which dates back some four thousand years.
- Broad Creek
- Broad Creek is a huge tidal creek that virtually divides Hilton Head Island in two. Many of the most popular attractions on the island, including but not limited to an incredible dolphin tour, are located on Broad Creek. It also serves as a haven for some of the island’s resident birds, such as the pied-billed grebe (common except in the summer), black-crowned and yellow-crowned night herons, the great blue heron, and the rare but stunning roseate spoonbill.
- Shelter Cove
- With a state-of-the-art performance center, resorts, two developed shopping centers, and a marina, Shelter Cove has become a can’t-miss destination point for visitors to Hilton Head Island. Not only is Shelter Cove a wonderful location for guests, but it is also the breeding ground for many of the island’s permanent bird species. For nature lovers’ convenience, a viewing platform has popped up near a roosting location for several species behind the Shelter Cove Towne Centre.
- Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge
- Birdwatchers can locate a variety of species, from peregrine falcons to great and snowy egrets, at Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge. Pinckney Island NWR boasts several walking and biking paths for individuals of various levels. The refuge has been designated by the National Audubon Society as an Important Bird Area. The refuge, at 4,053 acres, also offers rookeries for colonial wading birds such as egrets, herons, and ibis. The estuary is located where four different inshore streams meet. The oyster beds, saltwater streams, and tidal hammocks in this large wetland are typical of the area.
- Fish Haul Beach Park
- Fish Haul Beach Park, a hidden gem, is a wide stretch of beachfront that stretches along the Port Royal Sound and is backed by massive rocks, which is quite out of the ordinary for a southern coastline. The beach is also recognized as one of the best sites to find seashells on the island and is frequented by a variety of crabs. This area is a haven for local and migratory shorebirds. Birds such as plovers, gulls, sandpipers, and pelicans may be seen foraging along the shoreline.
- Jarvis Creek Park
- There’s plenty of excitement for everyone at Jarvis Creek Park, which spans a whopping 53 acres. Trail users may make use of the 1.1-mile circle that winds around the park. It is one of the best places on the island for a casual walk or run with the family. Many alligators, turtles, and birds may be observed year-round on the 11-acre lake, which is stocked with largemouth bass and bluegill.
- Coastal Discover Museum at Honey Horn
- Honey Horn is home to the Coastal Discovery Museum, where visitors may go on a range of nature hikes and bird watching tours led by knowledgeable volunteers. A must-see if you’re visiting Hilton Head! The 68-acre Honey Horn site offers a wealth of opportunities for exploring history and culture. In addition to the beautiful scenery afforded by the pathways, salt marshes, and live oaks, there are spotting scopes placed throughout Honey Horn. They will assist in finding nesting locations for various species, including storks, kingfishers, bluebirds, and ibises.
- Mitchelville Freedom Park
- Mitchelville’s rich history and its ties to the local Gullah culture propelled the establishment of the Mitchelville Freedom Park. Mitchelville is notably significant in the history of the Reconstruction-era freedom towns that were founded. Since 1988, a piece of the original site has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The area is home to a wide variety of animals in addition to its rich historical past, including several species of raptors, ducks, and shorebirds.
If you are a person with limited mobility or health concerns, check out Audubon Newhall Preserve, Sea Pines Forest Preserve, Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, Fish Haul Beach Park, Jarvis Creek Park, and The Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn for a full birdability experience.
For a distinct and exhilarating tour with a knowledgeable guide, get ready for an outdoor adventure and discover what birds you can spot by booking with Island Skiff Adventure Tours. Island Skiff Adventure Tours depart from Broad Creek Marina, which has ample parking and a convenient mid-island location.