Hilton Head Wildlife

Wildlife is everywhere on Hilton Head! Here is some of the most common wildlife you are likely to see around the Island:


Dolphins are common right off the beach in front of Captains Walk.  They frequently travel down the beach (heading south) in the morning and head back north an hour or so before sunset. We’ve also seen them in the water around Skull Creek Boathouse and Dockside, and are a real treat to see in the distance as you’re dining.


Deer are crepuscular, which means you are most likely to see them right before sunset. We’ve seen quite a few right around Captain’s Walk!


Your best bet to see an eagle are at the Sea Pines Forest Preserve (a great visit), on the power line towers as you’re heading off the island, or on some of the nature boat rides, especially those to Daufuski Island.


While alligator sightings are rare in Palmetto Dunes, you can easily find them if you visit Shipyard, just south on 278, or the Sea Pines Forest Preserve.

Horseshoe Crabs

Horseshoe crabs live primarily in and around shallow ocean waters on soft sandy or muddy bottoms.  Unfortunately in recent years, population declines have occurred as a consequence of coastal habitat destruction in Japan and overharvesting along the east coast of North America, and it’s common to see their empty shells (Horseshoe Crabs molt) wash up along the beach at Palmetto Dunes.

Sand Crabs

Sand Crabs are super cute! Find them scuttling in the sand after dark on the beach right in front of the unit.

Cannonball Jellyfish

Cannonball jellyfish, commonly referred to as jellyballs, are the third largest seafood commodity by weight in Georgia. Considered a delicacy in Asian countries, most of the jellyballs caught by Georgia fishermen are exported to Asian markets. These little guys prefer warm water, and when they are blown out of the Gulf Stream and hit colder Atlantic waters off South Carolina they slow down considerably and can no longer swim well. This causes many of the to wash up on the beaches around Hilton Head from fall to mid spring. Don’t worry, however – they do not sting and can be safely handled.

Brown Pelicans

Birds from the beach

As you sit on the beach, you will see a number of different birds. Some are seasonal, but the most common are:

Seagulls – There are several types of seagulls that make their home on Hilton Head. They are scavengers, and you will usually find them right above the sand looking for things to eat. If you are eating, expect to see them begging for handouts.

Pelicans – The largest bird you are likely to see, they usually fly about 50 yards offshore, frequently in flocks of ten or more, and often right above the water. They hunt fish near the surface, and when they are feeding they will start maybe 20 yards in the air, hover for a moment, then bend their wings and dive straight into the ocean, hitting the water with a large splash. They then sit on the water for a few moments, enjoying its meal, before they take off and repeat the process.

Osprey – There is an Osprey family that lives in a nest above the Palmetto Dunes water tower, so these birds are not uncommon. Looking like a large hawk, the Osprey will hunt out over the water, but unlike a pelican, they do not land on the water. Instead, the Osprey will pluck a fish in its talons and take it back to land to eat. When they carry the fish, they hold it in line with their body. One odd behavior that will help you identify an Osprey is that shortly after they take off from the water they will shake off. This looks a little like a stutter and is easy to spot even if they are off in the distance.

Sanderling – This is a type of Sandpiper, and are small birds that mainly run right at the shore where the waves just wet the sand. They are very fast, and will stop on a dime to dig their beak into the sand and grab a bite.