10 Types of Animals Seen on Tours
While experiencing the area’s history and gorgeous natural landscape on an Island Skiff tour, you are likely to see fascinating critters and creatures that make up the Lowcountry’s rich ecosystem along the way. You may want to keep your phone handy to capture one of these amazing animals in action.
- Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin
Without a doubt, the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin is the most popular Hilton Head local. They are majestic creatures and are the focus of tours on the island. In the Lowcountry, the bottlenose dolphin is the most common mammal living in open water and estuarine habitats. The enlarged upper and lower jaw that creates a kind of snout is what gives the shape its moniker, bottlenose. They can grow to be 13 feet long and weigh an average of 660 pounds. Local dolphins are year-round residents and can be seen feeding and playing in their natural habitat. The curve of their jaw gives them an ever-smiling appearance and whether it is your first time seeing one, or your hundredth, you really can’t help but smile back.
- Bald Eagles
After spending the summer months in Chesapeake Bay, Bald eagles return to the coastal Lowcountry in late August and are the area’s first nesters of the year. They return to the same nesting grounds year after year in the fall. After months of preparation, egg laying takes place in December, but it can also happen between November to March. The average wingspan and weight of bald eagles in South Carolina are 6 feet 2 inches and 7.14 pounds, respectively, which is smaller than that of their northern counterparts. With their striking white heads and tails, dark brown bodies, bright yellow bills, and feet with unfeathered lower legs, adult bald eagles are easily recognized. Up until the age of five, baby eagles have dark heads, tails, bodies, eyes, and bills before developing adult plumage. Bald eagles remain protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and should always be appreciated from afar.
There is quite a wide range of crab species that live in abundance in the Lowcountry. Including the blue crab, ghost crab, fiddler crab, squareback marsh crab, spider crab, hermit crab, stone crab and oyster crab. Before beginning their diverse lives, all Lowcountry crab species are tiny planktonic larvae that float in tidal currents waiting to call the area home. There are so many crabs, that they even have impersonators. The biggest crab you can find in the Lowcountry is not even in the crab family. The horseshoe crab belongs to a species that includes insects and spiders and is most closely linked to trilobites, which lived 544 million years ago.
The Lowcountry has 12 of the 17 heron species that are typically seen in North America. Herons are wading birds and are most often seen in shallow waters. Herons frequently breed in big groups known as heronries, but they prefer to hunt alone, either by remaining still while waiting or by scurrying about to agitate their victims. They are carnivores, and although fish make up much of their diet, they will also consume insects, tiny rodents, crustaceans, and small reptiles. Each type of heron has distinct features, however there are some common characteristics you will see amongst these birds. Most will have long and thin necks and legs, heavy bodies, small heads, and stout bills. Their long, rectangular wings and trailing legs make them impossible to miss when in flight.
Rarely do mink appear far from water. They live in river swamps, tiny, forested streams, and saltwater marshes. The mink is only about 3 1⁄2 inches tall and has a long, slender body and short, sturdy legs. They live to be approximately 10 years old and typically weigh between 1 ½ -3 ½ pounds. Depending on the kinds of prey species that are present in a particular ecosystem, their diet differs from place to place. A mink’s diet consists of roughly 40% fish, making it the most significant prey item. A wide range of mammals, insects, frogs, snakes, snails, and crabs are also consumed by minks. The Lowcountry is one of the many regions of South Carolina where mink like to call home.
Of the two species of pelican found in North America, both can be found in the Hilton Head Island area. Lucky spectators can see the American White Pelican and the Brown Pelican. The Brown Pelican is around year-round, while the American White Pelican can be spotted mostly in the winter. Being very large in size, pelicans are also among the most easily recognized due to their enormous bills, throat pouches, and feet. Despite their size, they are incredibly light because of air pockets in their bones and skin that enable them to float. Their big wings also enable them to soar when flying. In addition to eating fish, pelicans will also eat mammals, birds, insects, frogs, and snakes. They grab fish in their throat pouch and then spit the water out before swallowing. Up to three gallons of water at a time!
Eastern oysters can be found on the coast of South Carolina. Eastern oysters are extremely tolerant animals because they live in our shallow waters. They are a foundational species for our marsh environments because they can endure extreme fluctuations in air exposure, temperature, and salt. Oyster reefs support roughly 120 different kinds of fish, shrimp, crab, and other mollusks, so when the oysters are strong and healthy, so is the rest of the ecosystem. Unlike many water species, oysters wait for their food to come to them. They eat by filter-feeding phytoplankton and are the best water filter you could imagine. About seven gallons of water can be filtered daily by one oyster!
Sometimes known as fish hawks, ospreys are medium-sized birds that are specialized for living by the water. Fish make up the entirety of their diet and their physical characteristics provide them with the tools for their food of choice. They are equipped with long talons and spiny toes that can grasp slippery prey. An osprey’s plumage is oily and thick, which enables them to uniquely dive into the water. Ospreys are mostly seen circling above and can be mistaken for an eagle because of their impressive 55–70-inch wingspan. Unlike brown bellied eagles, ospreys have a white body with brown speckles and a distinct banded tail. Keep an eye out for one of their large nests on a piling or a bridge when passing.
- River Otters
Otters are always linked with water, and they like clear water that is comparatively untouched by human activity due to their sensitivity to pollution. Otters are present in all of South Carolina’s major river drainages but prefer coastal marshes due to the amount of food and cover. The otter is perfect for living in the water because of its long, cylindrical body and strong tail. The tail makes up around one-third of the adult otter’s length, which ranges from 35 to 55 inches. Male otters get up to 20 pounds, with females slightly smaller. The handholding, adorable weasels are monogamous mates, and their young are born in late winter. The young stay with their mother for almost a year learning survival and feeding practices. Fish make up much of their diet, but they are opportunistic eaters, and their diet depends on the availability of prey. Not unlike people of the area, a favorite for otters are local Lowcountry crabs.
- Sea Turtles
Four of the seven spectacular sea turtle species can be found in the waters around Hilton Head Island. Although Leatherbacks, Kemp’s Ridleys, and Green sea turtles also live in the Lowcountry waters, Loggerhead sea turtles are the most frequent in this region. In fact, because they are so prevalent, the loggerhead sea turtle was selected as South Carolina’s state reptile in 1988. Hilton Head Island serves as a haven for sea turtles as they get ready to nest and lay their eggs for the season from early May to the end of October. While seeing a sea turtle in the wild can be exhilarating, it’s crucial to respect these lovely creatures’ space to ensure their continued survival as a species.