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Wildlife

Wildlife

Few places can compete with Hilton Head for nature lovers. Wildlife abounds on land, in lagoons and in the ocean. We hope this page will help you enjoy observing our wildlife.  If you are a nature lover, check with the Coastal Discovery Museum to see what their programs for nature walks, kayaking, and bird watching are (689-6767).  They are in Honey Horn Plantation. 

Birds

It is an oversimplification to divide birds into the categories of shore birds and inland birds, but it helps in identification. Generally, shore birds have long legs for their bodies because they feed by wading in the water and eating fish or small crustaceans.  The smallest are Piping Plovers, which can be seen running along the tide line so fast their legs are a blur. Somewhat larger, but of similar behavior, are Sanderlings and Sandpipers. Egrets are found more often in lagoons and marshes than on the beach. These are the large, pure white, long legged birds with a very long skinny neck. The Great White Egret is the larger one, distinguished by a yellow beak. The smaller Snowy Egret has a black beak.Great Blue Heron During nesting season both these birds display beautiful, long, delicate plumes. The huge grayish blue birds similar to Egrets are Great Blue Herons. They can be seen in lagoons and marshes, but they do come to the beach at dusk and often remain until nightfall.

Some other long-legged birds you might see are:
The Ibis, often found on golf courses and identified by a long, curved beak. The Ibis is white when mature, but youngsters are mostly brown.

The Wood Stork, becoming more common on Hilton Head as they lose habitat in Florida. This bird looks all white when it's on land, but reveals half black wings (underside) when flying. The Wood Stork is endangered, with a declining population, due to wetlands drainage in Florida. At this time they are headed toward certain extinction.

The cattle Egret can be found in horse pastures. This is a small white Egret, with some brown accents on its head, breast and back.

Brown Pelicans are entertaining to watch. They glide gracefully through the air, often skimming along inches above the water. As graceful as they are when flying, they are ungainly when feeding. A Pelican will hover about 30 feet above the water looking for small fish, then suddenly fold its wings and crash unceremoniously into the water to grab its prey.

The dark colored birds standing with their wings outstretched are either Anhingas or Cormorants. Cormorants are more common and can be identified by a hooked beak, whereas the Anhinga has a straight, pointed beak. These birds feed by swimming under water, which they do very well. They are often seen in the water, with little more than their long neck above the surface, hence their nickname, snakebird. You might see a Common Loon, which looks like the Anhinga or Cormorant but has a shorter neck and is much more rare (declining population).

The most common bird on the beach is, of course, the Gull. There are many kinds of Gull, but they are all scavengers, usually eating dead things that wash up on the beach, stealing another bird's catch or young or hovering around shrimp trawlers. An interesting behavior of some Gulls is they will pick up an oyster from the shallows, fly high into the air and drop it onto the hard packed sand. This cracks open the oyster, and then the gull that dropped it is in competition with the others to get to it first. If you see a gull that makes you laugh, its a Laughing Gull, which makes a sound so like a human laugh its contagious. Other common Gulls here are the Herring Gull and the Ring-billed Gull. Herring Gulls are quite large - about 25" long. They have a yellow bill with a red dot at the tip . Ring-billed Gulls are about 19" long and a yellow bill with a black ring around it.

If you see a Gull-like bird that is actually working for its living by diving for food, its probably a Tern. There are many kinds of Tern, but common characteristics in this part of the country are white or light color with a black crown and a notched or forked tail.Skimmer on Hilton Head

A bird that looks somewhat like a Tern is a Black Skimmer. This bird flies just above the water and plows the surface of the water with its open beak, waiting to snap shut on any prey it contacts.

If you are on the beach and see a large bird circling high overhead and looking like an Eagle, it's probably an Osprey.  Like Eagles, Osprey were affected by DDT and almost became extinct. Even ten years ago an Osprey sighting on Hilton Head was rare. Fortunately the population has bounced back and sightings are now common. Keep an eye on this bird. When it sees a fish it will dive from great height at high speed and snatch up the fish with its razor sharp talons. It's quite a sight to see and sometimes happens close to the beach. You can see Osprey nests on TV antenna and other towers. Recently there have been sightings of bald Eagles on the Island. The local newspaper claims knowledge of three nesting pair in the general area. They, too are making a comeback.

Red Tailed hawk on Hilton Head's inland birds are much the same as those seen elsewhere. Songbirds include the Cardinal, Tufted Titmouse, Mocking Bird , Sparrow, Chickadee, Woodpecker and Wren. Grackles, a type of blackbird, are very common and very noisy.  The males are an iridescent black and the females are brown. Ring-necked Turtle Doves are becoming increasingly common. They are a smoky beige in color, with a black band at the back of their necks.  These birds can be seen pretty much throughout the year. Finches, Warblers, Hummingbirds, various Ducks, and Vireos, among others, are migratory visitors. This picture is of a Red Tail Hawk, common on Hilton Head. They are the squirrel's nemesis.

Other than the beach, the best places for bird watching on Hilton Head are the Sea Pines Forest Preserve and the Audubon Newhall preserve on Palmetto Bay road (off island is the Pinckney preserve, also popular among birders).

Reptiles
Alligators
Alligators are perhaps our best known wildlife. For the most part they live in the many lagoons throughout Hilton Head. Alligators are cold-blooded (they have no mechanism to regulate body temperature) so they rely on their environment to survive. During cooler weather alligators will come out of their lagoons and lie on the banks in the sun to raise their body temperature. In warmer weather they stay in the water to stay relatively cool. This means the best times to see alligators are the spring and fall, but exceptions are common. If a lot of rain has lowered the water temperature in the lagoons, the alligators will come out to sun themselves. It also seems sometimes they come out of the water just because they feel like it, for example, on a cloudy day. In Winter (October to March) alligators become dormant and hide in mud dens, so are rarely seen.

Alligators in Hilton Head can grow to about 12 feet in length.  Those larger than that are generally "removed" because they scare people.  The locals have an arrangement with the alligators: we leave them alone and they leave us alone. You would be wise to honor that arrangement. Alligators are not normally aggressive toward humans but they are dangerous.  An alligator can outrun a horse for a limited distance. Human adults are too big to be alligator prey, but small children and pets are vulnerable, and an angry alligator knows no fear and will go after anything that bothers it.  Here are some rules to keep you out of harm's way:

A mother alligator protecting its nest is about the only circumstance an alligator will attack without provocation. This could occur in wooded or brushy areas near lagoons. Nesting is typically May through August, and the mother protects the hatchlings for one to three years.

Feeding alligators is illegal for a good reason.  If an alligator sees humans as a source of food, it stands to reason it will approach humans.  Alligators lack social skills - they won't ask nicely for a handout. To feed an alligator is to sign its death warrant, for it will become aggressive and will soon be "removed" (yes, killed).

Never, ever, let small children or pets play in lagoons or on the banks of lagoons. Alligators are so fast a pet can vanish before its owner can take a deep breath.

Large alligator - If you catch a fish in a lagoon and an alligator wants it, give it up. Reeling in the fish close to you is a very bad idea, as the alligator will see you as competition for food.

If someone tells you there are no alligators in a given lagoon all they have done is display their ignorance about alligators. Alligators move around and frequently relocate. A male can cover 1,000 acres in search of mates.

There have been very rare instances of alligators at the beach. Alligators can stand salt water but prefer fresh or brackish, so an alligator at the beach is out of its normal environment and probably lost. Just keep away from it - if possible report it.

It has been said that the way to tell the length of an alligator is to measure the distance between its eyes in inches, which will tell you its length in feet. This sounds like a very bad idea if the alligator is alive.

Lizards and Salamanders
You will see creatures we tend to call lizards climbing up stucco walls and wood fences or sunning on decks.  They are absolutely harmless to man, in fact, they eat insects to our benefit.  Children like to try to catch them and often end up with a wriggling tail in their hands, for these creatures will sacrifice their tail as a defense against predators because they will grow another to replace it.  A lizard that is usually green and has a red throat that it can blow up like a tiny balloon is an "Anole".  The Anole can change color to brown, especially in cool weather. Females have a dorsal stripe on their back. A less common lizard you might see is the Skink.  Skinks favor woodlands and gardens and are very shy. They are thicker in the body than other species.

Turtles
The most common turtles spotted sunning themselves on the banks of lagoons are Yellow Bellied Sliders.  They have yellow bellies and show some yellow on their heads and legs. Others you may see are Diamond Back Terrapins. They too have some yellow on their shells but not on their heads or legs. They can live in salt or brackish water. If you should get close enough to one to count the rings on the "diamonds" on its shell, you will know its age in years. These turtles were once popular as food for humans. 

The sea turtle you might see will likely be a Loggerhead.  These turtles can grow to enormous size, up to four feet in length and weighing 400 pounds.  If you see one in the water you will get just a glimpse, as it will dive as soon as it senses your presence.  Loggerheads are protected by federal law as an endangered species.  In the spring and early summer, females crawl awkwardly up the beach, often at night, and dig a hole in the sand near the high tide line.  They will deposit about 100 eggs in this hole and cover it with sand, then return to the sea.  About two months later, one night the eggs will hatch and the baby Loggerheads will rush to the ocean.  Only one Loggerhead egg in 10,000 will result in a hatchling becoming an adult.  Their enemies are Raccoons and Ghost Crabs that eat the eggs, man, who sometimes regards the eggs as toys or in some cases a delicacy or aphrodisiac, fish and birds of prey that eat the hatchlings, and one unusual problem.  Loggerhead hatchlings are guided to the ocean by the reflection of starlight on the water.  If people who occupy properties on or near the ocean have lights on at night during hatching season, the light and reflections produced confuses the hatchlings, who may head inland to certain death from dehydration or predation. Another Loggerhead killer is trash - balloons, plastic bags, Styrofoam™, etc. that they might mistake for food. The laws that protect Loggerheads provide extremely severe penalties for anyone who disturbs a nest or interferes with the hatchlings rush to the sea. You might be surprised to learn the law also requires lights visible from the beach to be extinguished or shielded from May 1 to October 31. The penalty for not doing so can be a fine of $895.00.  If you should be fortunate enough to see a nest hatch, stay away from it, and do not illuminate a flashlight or cigarette lighter.  Those who think they can circumvent those rules are often surprised by the volunteers who patrol the beaches at night to protect the nests and hatchlings.  If you see a problem with Loggerhead nests or hatchlings, call the Coastal Discovery Museum at 843-689-6767 or the Sheriff at 843-785-3618.  Do not try to help - fines go to six figures and jail time can be imposed.

Snakes
There are many species of snakes in South Carolina.  I see a snake on Hilton Head on the average of once every two years, but I don't spend a lot of time in the woods.  Most snakes are at least as afraid of humans as we are of them, and will try hard to avoid us. That said, I would encourage golfers looking for a wayward ball in the woods to make a lot of noise, sweeping the underbrush with their club.  Poisonous snakes that could be found on the island are:

Coral snake - Usually small, burrows in the ground, very strong venom. Rare in South Carolina and it is banded with red, black and yellow bands, but so are many other snakes.  If the bands are yellow-red-yellow remember "kill a fellow".

Cottonmouth (AKA  Water Moccasin) - Is aquatic, may flee if approached or may display a huge white open mouth as a threat. They can get very large, up to several feet.

Rattle snake - They have been spotted on the island and can get very large.

Copperhead - Freeze at danger rather than run away, but not particularly aggressive. 

Hilton Head overall does not provide good habitat for snakes.  It's too built out and there are too many people, so if you want to see snakes there are many better places.  You might see legless lizards that looks a lot like snakes except they have ear holes and moveable eyelids.

Fire Station

Your Indigo Run Fire Station 7 (1001 Mashland) is part of the Hilton Head Fire District and the Hilton Head Island Rescue Squad.

Station Staffing:  Staffs 5 to include a Battalion Chief, a Company Officer, an FAO, Firefighter/Paramedic and Firefighter/EMT's. Houses Medic 7 (ambulance), Engine 7 (Engine), Utility 1 (cascade system/Rehab), and Battalion 1 (Command Suburban).
If needed in an emergency, Fire Station 4 (400 Squire Pope Road) and 5 (20 Whooping Crane Way) can be dispatched to Indigo Run.

Among Hilton Head Island Fire Rescue's outstanding achievements that we are particularly proud of is that for the 3rd time in 10 years, we have obtained International Accreditation Status from the Commission on Fire Accreditation International, Inc. The CFAI is committed to improving fire and emergency service agencies around the world. In order to become accredited, Hilton Head Island Fire Rescue has achieved excellence in service and has established a plan for continuous improvement.

Hilton Head Island Fire Rescue was named as one of three outstanding communities by the International Association of Fire Chiefs with their Heart Safe Community award in 2010. As an organization, Hilton Head Island Fire Rescue participates in the development of the state fire services by participating in many state programs. Nationally, several members of our staff sit on NFPA technical committees championing fire service professionalism and excellence.

Hilton Head Island Fire Rescue has built a reputation for excellence and innovation with the ability to meet the needs of our ever changing community.

OUTDOOR BURNING REGULATIONS: Outdoor burning is allowed throughout the years on specific days.  Please call 843-682-5125 for rules and regulations and to obtain a burning permit.  Click Here for Burning Regulations.

Note:  A burn permit must be obtained from any Hilton Head Island Fire Station or Fire Rescue Headquarters.

Pet Information

No animals other than pets deemed “household pets” by Beaufort County shall be raised, bred or kept at any residence.  Animals must wear collars with identification tags on and be leashed when outside the property limits of its owner.  When a pet is within the property limits of their owner, it must be confined by fence, chain, or other appropriate measure (e.g. electronic fence), or attended by its owner and respond to strict voice control.  Strict voice control shall mean demonstrable control or governance of the behavior of any animal as if they were controlled by a leash.  If the pet is a guest on a property of another the same restrictions apply.  Animals will not, among other things, agitate or molest a passerby, attack other animals, trespass on private property, be repeatedly at large, damage private property, or be allowed to disturb the peace, or swim in a lagoon.

Persons walking pets are responsible for cleaning up and disposing of excrement in a sanitary manner.  Pet owners shall maintain sanitary conditions on all property to prevent the spread of parasites or infectious disease.  Dogs and cats three months of age or more are required to be inoculated against rabies.

Animals must not be left unattended for more than 24 hours.  After a 24-hour period, if no contact has been made with an owner, an animal control officer will pick up the animal and transport it to an animal shelter.

Menacing alligators or other wild animals should be reported to Security.  The feeding of alligators is strictly prohibited.

Any violations of the Beaufort County Animal Code or the Town of Hilton Head Island Animal Control Code will also be deemed a violation of this Rule.

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