Photo by Howard Costa


As you explore the endless array of outdoor activities on Hilton Head Island, you are sure to come across the natural inhabitants. Winged, feathered, scaled or furred, they are all impressive and enjoyable to observe, but require the utmost respect as you come upon their terrain. Several rules of engagement exist to ensure a pleasant experience for all.

Alligators: If you come across our most famous creature, the American alligator, do not feed or harass it. They are wild animals and can outrun a small dog or child. You may see them sunbathing on the banks of ponds and lagoons, or even making the rare appearance on our roads or sandy beaches. These large reptiles demand and deserve respectful distance.

Birds: Hilton Head is the place to be for bird watchers. You can observe both shore birds and inland birds. Shorebirds, with their long skinny legs for walking through the tides and long beaks for capturing fresh fish, are entertaining and remarkable to watch. You’ll find brown pelican, ibis, wood stork, egret, osprey and more walking on the shores, marshes and greenways.

Deer: While driving through the resort plantations or teeing off on a golf course, you may very well run into the most over-populated island inhabitant—the white-tailed deer. Due to increased inbreeding of these island animals, these deer only grow to be 130 to 200 pounds and three to four feet tall. They can however, bounce away from prey or in front of your car at a speed of 28 miles per hour. Keep a lookout when driving at night along the moonlit streets.

Dolphins: As you adventure out on the waters of Hilton Head, you’re sure to make friends with the Island’s friendliest mammal, the bottle-nosed dolphin. However, keep in mind that the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act strictly prohibits the feeding, touching and harassment of dolphins and other marine animals. Resist the urge to pat their heads or throw them a bite to eat. If reported, civil or criminal penalties could be imposed.

Loggerhead Turtles: Between early May and late August the Lowcountry’s beaches are prime nesting areas for the endangered loggerhead turtle. In 2015 there were 325 turtle nests on Hilton Head’s beaches. Strict laws protect these beautiful giants and their nests found along the ocean’s shore; Hilton Head has an ordinance banning lights on the beach after 10:00 p.m. between May 1 to October 31 to avoid confusing the baby turtles as they make their first mad dash to the ocean. If you happen to come across a nest, do not touch it; do not leave beach accessories (such as umbrellas and chairs) on the beach overnight; and fill in all holes from digging and building sand castles. If you come across a nest or have any questions, contact the Coastal Discovery Museum (weekdays, 843-689-6767), the Town of Hilton Head (weekdays, 843-341-4690) or the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Hotline (800-922-5431). Fines and jail time can be enforced upon those who disrupt the nests of these endangered species.

For those interested in marine research, the University of South Carolina Beaufort conducts marine ecology and wildlife research aboard the “Vagabond”, operated by Vagabond Cruises.

For more information, contact:

Backwater Adventure  (843-300-8556)

Commander Zodiac  (843-671-3344)

Dolphin and Nature Cruises  (843-681-2522)

Dolphin Seafari  (843-785-2345)

Enjoy Daufuskie ( 843-342-8687)

Flying Circus  (843-686-2582)

The Gypsy  (843-363-2900)

The Holiday (Adventure Cruises)  (843-785-4558)

Island Explorer  (843-785-2100)

Kayak Hilton Head  (843-684-1910)

Live Oac Adventures  (888-254-8362)

Lowcountry Wildlife Photo Safaris  (843-524-3037)

Outside Hilton Head  (800-686-6996)

Palmetto Bay Marina  (843-785-7131)

Palmetto Bay Water Sports  (843-785-2345)

Pau Hana  (843-686-2582)

Sky Pirate Watersports  (843-686-5323)

Spirit of Harbour Town  (843-363-9026)

Stars & Stripes  (843-363-9026)

Sumo Charters  (843-671-4386)

Vagabond Cruises  (843-363-9023)

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