Discover Kiawah Island Wildlife - 6 Incredible Species!

There are countless reasons to love it here, but for many visitors (and residents like us!) up-close encounters with Kiawah Island wildlife tops the list. Our protected, ecologically diverse island—with its beaches, woodlands and coastal marshes—creates the ideal habitat for a whole range of critters of the sea, earth and sky.

See Where to Sight Kiawah Island Wildlife

Check out our article on where to spot 10+ Kiawah Island species.

1. The American Alligator

Commonly seen sunning near the island’s 150 brackish ponds, especially by the Cherrywood BBQ & Ale House at the Golf Resort, American alligators can be found in freshwater ponds, marshes, and rivers all through out Kiawah Island. These animals are actually millions of years in existence and are considered living descendants from the time of dinosaurs. These impressive creatures can weigh over 1,000 pounds and measure up to 13 to 15 feet in length. They have incredibly strong jaws and up to 80 sharp teeth, but the crazy thing is, their teeth are designed for grabbing, not chewing and they typically eat their prey whole. While these animals are vicious, they are not aggressive towards humans. If you leave them alone, they will leave you alone. So be sure to always observe these magnificent creatures from a distance. 

An alligator basks in the sun on the lush grassy bank of a Kiawah Island pond, a heron searching for food in the background.
Alligator on Kiawah Island lounging by a lagoon.

2. The White-Tailed Deer

White-tailed deer are a prominent feature of Kiawah Island wildlife, and you are likely to see many of them during your stay. They are commonly seen on the beaches and grazing near beach access points. The island’s bobcats help maintain the deer population. These deer are not only exceptional runners, capable of reaching speeds between 30 and 40 miles per hour and leaping up to 10 feet high, but they also exhibit unique behaviors when alarmed, such as raising their white tails to alert others in the area. The males, known as bucks, annually grow and shed their antlers starting in the spring, with full development by late summer or early fall. While most active at dawn and dusk, these deer are visible throughout the day. Females typically form family groups, whereas males either live alone or in small bachelor groups. Since there is no hunting allowed on Kiawah Island, the white-tailed deer population is thriving. If you remain still upon encountering one, they might approach you. However, please refrain from feeding them, as it disrupts their natural inclination to forage on the green forest foliage.

Group of deer wading and drinking at the shoreline of Kiawah Island, with gentle waves in the background.
Deer on Kiawah Island playing by the ocean.

3. The Loggerhead Turtle

Every May through August, Kiawah Island prioritizes the protection of loggerhead hatchlings, largely due to the efforts of human volunteers, resulting in about 75% of hatchlings safely beginning their journey to the sea. Named for their broad heads and powerful jaws, loggerhead turtles have thrived for over 50 million years. Female loggerheads display incredible nesting behaviors, returning to the beach where they were born to lay their eggs. They dig deep nests in the sand and deposit up to 100 eggs per clutch. After nesting, guided by the moonlight, they find their way back to the ocean. To safeguard these journeys, Kiawah Island prohibits beachfront lighting after dark, ensuring that no artificial lights disrupt the hatchlings. By preserving the natural moonlight, the island protects the loggerhead turtles’ ancient navigational instincts, allowing their legacy to continue undisturbed.

Read More

Discover the nesting and hatching behaviors of Kiawah Island's Loggerhead turtles.

Newly hatched baby turtles making their way across the sandy beach of Kiawah Island towards the ocean.
Baby Loggerhead turtles making their way back to the ocean.

4. The Bobcat

The island supports a healthy bobcat population (about 30-35), which plays a crucial role in the ecosystem. Sightings are rare as they are mostly active from dusk to dawn.

A Kiawah Island bobcat prowling in a tree on Kiawah Island.

5. Birds

Kiawah island has over 200 species of birds, including eagles, egrets, and herons thriving in its varied ecosystems.

A Kiawah Island White Heron

6. The Bottlenose Dolphin

Kiawah Island is renowned as the first location where dolphins were observed performing “strand feeding,” a distinctive method where they herd fish onto sandbars and mudflats, particularly visible at Captain Sam’s Inlet during low tide. Known for their high intelligence and problem-solving skills, bottlenose dolphins are capable of learning complex tasks. These sociable and playful creatures form close-knit pods and communicate through a variety of clicks, whistles, and body movements. Each dolphin possesses a unique signature whistle that serves as their vocal “name” within the pod, which they utilize during their unique feeding behavior of herding schools of fish towards the shore and stranding them on the beach to feed.

Read More

Learn more about Dolphin Strand Feeding.

A playful dolphin emerges from the calm waters around Kiawah Island, greeting visitors with its charismatic presence.
Bottlenose Dolphin swimming in the Kiawah Island river.

Be Kind to Kiawah Island's Wildlife

While you’re here, please be mindful of our wild neighbors. Some tips to help you live harmoniously:

  • While you are driving on the island—especially at night—be on the lookout for animals crossing the road. Deer especially can seemingly come out of nowhere very quickly!
  • Although it is very tempting, do not feed the wildlife. This alters their natural instincts and weakens their ability to find food on their own. It can also make them more aggressive towards humans.
  • Help our loggerhead turtles make a safe journey to the sea. If you stay on the beach from May through August, ensure that you turn off any outdoor lights. These can disorient the loggerheads, who use the moonlight to guide them home.
  • Keep a safe distance from all wildlife, and make sure your kiddos and dogs do the same.

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Jeanette and Shawn

Founders of Kiawah Island Getaways, a luxury vacation rental company with over 20 years of experience serving guests on Kiawah. See our 5 star reviews here and our availability here. Book your rental today!

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