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3 Apr 2023
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Kiawah Island is home to abundant wildlife, including many varieties of birds, fish, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates. These animals live all over the Island, from the wooded marshlands to the pristine, sandy beaches.

dolphins and pelican feeding on beach

Common Wildlife Species on Kiawah

Whether you're exploring the land, sailing the seas, or birdwatching from an observation tower, you're sure to spot a variety of species on Kiawah Island. Rich natural habitats combined with island-wide conservation efforts make Kiawah a hotspot for wildlife.

White-Tailed Deer

You can find around 500 deer on Kiawah Island. These deer are very adaptable, finding habitat among the island’s fields and forests as well as the suburban neighborhoods. You don’t have to go searching for these cuties! You are bound to see quite a few on your vacation.

Although white-tailed deer are found in many other areas of the country, Kiawah Island's deer population may look a bit different to you. Our white-tailed deer are smaller in size to help them cope with the warmer climate of Kiawah Island. 

sea turtles moving toward ocean

Loggerhead Sea Turtles

Kiawah Island serves as a vital nesting beach for loggerhead sea turtles. Here on Kiawah, we work very vigilantly to assure the safety of the nesting sites. The Town of Kiawah Island regularly patrols and monitors these sweet creatures as they nest, hatch, and return to the sea. When attempting to get a glimpse, be careful to not disturb the nesting turtles, and please refrain from shining lights toward them.

Nesting activities typically begin in mid-May and continue through early August. The hatchings begin around mid-July and continue through the end of October.  Kiawah has one of the largest Turtle Patrol volunteer programs in the U.S. The Kiawah Island Turtle Patrol collects data about the nests and hatchlings and reports findings to the SCDNR.

bottlenose dolphin in front of marsh grass in kiawah river

Bottlenose Dolphins

The ocean around Kiawah Island is home to many species of marine mammals, the most common being the bottlenose dolphin. To catch a sighting of these beautiful and majestic creatures, check out the surf, inlets, rivers, and creeks throughout Kiawah Island. Adult dolphins will be 6-10 feet long and weigh up to 500 pounds or more.

If you are lucky, you’ll get a glimpse of the dolphins engaging in strand feeding. A group of dolphins will herd a school of fish or shrimp up onto a sandbar or mudflat. Then, the dolphins will launch their bodies out of the water to feed in a fascinating display. 

American Alligators

The alligator population here on Kiawah Island can be spotted in almost 150 brackish and freshwater ponds spread throughout the island. Most of the alligators seen on Kiawah Island are approximately 3 to 8 feet in length. 

Small alligators will typically consume insects, frogs, snakes, small fish, and turtles. As an alligator increases in size, it will consume larger prey, such as raccoons, wading birds, small mammals, fish, deer, and even other alligators. 

Alligators on Kiawah are most active during the spring, summer, and fall. You will see them most often basking in the sun on the edge of a pond in order to warm their body temperature during cooler months.

Remember, it is against the law to feed or otherwise harass alligators. This includes activities such as throwing sticks or rocks. When people feed alligators, they will begin to associate people with food, creating a very dangerous situation. Always admire them from a safe distance.



Kiawah Island is home to the largest bobcat population in South Carolina. This population, while posing no threat to humans, plays a vital role in managing the island's pests. Looking to sight the bobcat? You’ll have the best odds between dusk and dawn! 


Fishing is one of the most popular activities to do on Kiawah Island. Whether it’s in a pond, at the beach, or on a charter boat, you can expect to experience a fun and adventurous time.

In freshwater ponds or lagoons, you may find Bream, Grass Carp, Tilapia, and Largemouth Bass. If fishing in saltwater creeks, rivers, or the ocean, you may encounter Black Drum, Flounder, Trout, and a variety of shark species.

Wildlife Conservation Efforts

Kiawah Island has strict environmental standards and has met the qualifications to become a certified Community Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. Wildlife monitoring and management are handled by the Town of Kiawah IslandKiawah Island Community Association (KICA), and South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR).

The local non-profit organization, the Kiawah Conservancy, was founded in 1997. The Conservancy has played an active role in wildlife protection ever since with the mission to "measure, manage, improve, and advocate for the ecological health of Kiawah Island and its environs." The Conservancy has been nationally recognized for its preservation efforts.

Kiawah Island residents are passionate about the island's wildlife and take part in initiatives such as Lights Out for Sea Turtles. The Lights Out movement bans artificial lights on the beach at night during sea turtle season. Artificial light sources can confuse hatchlings and nesting sea turtles.

orange sign reading please do not feed the wildlife

Wildlife Safety Tips

As always, safety comes first when attempting to catch a glimpse of the wonderful wildlife we have present on Kiawah Island.

Here are a few quick tips to protect yourself and the wildlife:

  • Never approach any wildlife and always maintain a 60-foot distance
  • Do not feed the wildlife
  • Do not attempt to pick up or handle the wildlife
  • Keep all children and pets at a safe distance from each pond  

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