Basic Guide to Birding on Hilton Head Island

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Hilton Head Island is an escape for many—visitors and wildlife included! Often feeling secluded from the rest of the world, the island prides itself on prioritizing the natural landscape and protecting all local wildlife living from the tops of the sea pines and oaks, to species dwelling in the rivers, ponds, and surrounding ocean waters. Hilton Head is home to many bird species and is considered a premier site for shorebirds on the East Coast. In fact, at the end of every year, Hilton Head Audubon does a Christmas Bird Count that’s considered the largest in the country, covering a 15-mile diameter circle that includes not only Hilton Head Island, but the Pinckney and Daufuskie Islands. You can read more about the process from this Post and Courier article by Kelly Jean Kelly.

You’ll be able to observe some amazing natural habitats during your trip, regardless of the time of year. Read on for a basic birding guide that shows you a few birds you’ll spot while you’re out and about on the island, as well as a few that are harder to find but worth keeping an eye out for. We’ve also included a list of locations on the island that are known to be great for birding that offer other activities and amenities. For more about winter wildlife in particular, click this link to check out our specialty guide.

Photo Taken from Mitchelville Observation Deck
Photo Taken from Fish Haul Beach Boardwalk

Birding Locations

Audubon Newhall Preserve

55 Palmetto Bay Rd, Hilton Head Island, SC 29928

Often thought of as the best spot for birding, the Audubon Newhall Preserve is located on the south end of Hilton Head Island, just off of Palmetto Bay Road. This preserve is 50 acres full of trails that let visitors explore the natural habitat free of charge. We do recommend donating to the preserve if you happen to visit, especially if you join in on one of the Nature Walks that start every Tuesday morning from September to May.

Sea Pines Forest Preserve

Purchasing a Gate Pass is Required

Within the Sea Pines property sits 605 acres of protected area. Open from sunrise to sunset, visitors can follow the trails and boardwalks for some exercise in the great outdoors, and even have the option to sign up for guided boat tours, horseback rides starting from nearby Lawton Stables, wagon tours, and even fishing expeditions. This preserve also sees migrating birds in the fall and spring, as well as a range of owls, hawks, songbirds, and more!

Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn

70 Honey Horn Dr, Hilton Head Island, SC 29926

This 68-acre property is full of ways to discover local wildlife and even learn more about the Lowcountry in general. The museum is a Smithsonian affiliate, and although it is free to visit, donations are very much appreciated. There are scheduled talks, classes, and tours that cover a myriad of topics, but the staff operates guided bird walks and other nature tours that you’ll want to sign up for. The Honey Horn property is easy to navigate if you’d like to explore the trails, gardens, and boardwalks yourself. Along with events throughout the year, the property does have a butterfly enclosure that’s open to the public.

Jarvis Creek Park

100 Jarvis Park Rd, Hilton Head Island, SC 29926

Located on the north end of the island, Jarvis Creek Park is 53 acres and features a trail and large lake. The lake is stocked with fish, and features a fishing dock for your convenience. Fishermen aren’t all that this lake attracts, as this is a popular spot for waterfowl throughout the year. Jarvis Creek Park is a great choice for those that just want to stretch their legs, and because this pathway is paved, it’s also perfect for riding bikes as well.

Fish Haul Beach Park

120 Mitchelville Rd, Hilton Head Island, SC 29926

Not normally included in the group of popular beaches for tourists, Fish Haul is located on the north end of the island and looks out across the Port Royal Sound. You’ll be able to see Parris Island to the left, and St Helena Island straight ahead. You tend to see more wildlife here because it’s typically less crowded, and you’ll be able to spot plenty of shorebirds on the beach and dunes. For another view, there’s a path starting at the parking lot that leads you to a boardwalk that parallels the beach, but it’s completely surrounded by marsh that’s a great spot for birding.

More Locations on HHI

Green Shell Park
Mitchelville Freedom Park
Shelter Cove Marina
Palmetto Bay Marina

More Locations Off HHI

Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge
Savannah National Wildlife Refuge
Cypress Wetlands in Port Royal, SC
Sergeant Jasper Park in Hardeeville, SC

A Few Birds to Lookout For

There are more than 330 species of birds in the Lowcountry, so we’ll only stick to some of the ones you’ll see a lot of on your trip, and others that you’ll want to keep an eye out for. For a more comprehensive guide, check out Hilton Head Audubon’s website.

Pine Warbler

Rhododendrites, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Great Blue Heron

James St. John, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Marbled Gotwit

Dick Daniels (http://theworldbirds.org/), CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Laughing Gull

Jacques Nyemb, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Black-Bellied Whistling Duck

Wildreturn, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Yellow-Crowned Night Heron

Judy Gallagher, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Belted Kingfisher

Kevin Cole from Pacific Coast, USA (en:User:Kevinlcole), CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Little Blue Heron

Dori, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Ian Kirk from Broadstone, Dorset, UK, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

White Ibis

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

American Oystercatcher

Dario Niz, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Painted Bunting

Andrew C, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Bald Eagle

Andy Morffew from Itchen Abbas, Hampshire, UK, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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