Birding & Nature Trails
Tybee Island and our undeveloped neighbor Little Tybee Island are wonderful places for the nature lover to visit. Come explore our coastal salt marshes, beaches with natural, protected dunes, and our subtropical forests of live oak, pine, and palm. All are rich with birdlife and many other varieties of wildlife. Discover why nature lovers everywhere are flocking to our little piece of paradise.
Tybee also offers its visitors and their families numerous hotels, inns, vacation rentals, and top notch restaurants as well as several historical sights and many other activities that will make each visit unforgettable.
Tybee Island, part of the Colonial Coast Birding Trail, is an excellent locale for birders to visit. Tybee is a coastal barrier island that is part of the Georgia’s coastal salt marsh system. Georgia has close to 500,000 acres of salt marshes which are home to many species of wading birds: egrets and herons (9 local species), white ibis, and the endangered woodstork. These conspicuous birds can be seen from the roads that cross the marsh, including McQueen’s Island, next to Tybee Island (part of Ft. Pulaski National Park), or from one of Tybee’s several restaurants that overlook the marsh. The best way to see the marsh birds is to charter a boat that will take you through the marsh creeks.
North Beach Birding Trail
The north beach, near Tybee’s famous lighthouse, is the best place on Tybee to view seabirds and shorebirds, many of which are only here in the winter. While visiting the trail be sure to allow time to climb the historic lighthouse and tour our museum.
The black skimmer, a year round resident, is a unique bird whose lower beak is longer than its upper beak. The skimmer regularly gathers to rest on the north beach in flocks ranging from 100 to 1000 birds. Another unique bird, the oystercatcher, also a full time resident, uses its flat red bill to pry open oysters. Small flocks of up to 30 birds can often be found on the north beach. However, the winter is the best time to see shorebirds who migrate from the Arctic tundra to spend the fall and winter on Tybee’s beach.
The north beach of Tybee is the best place on the coast of Georgia to see the purple sandpiper. Expect to see these migrating and wintering shorebirds at north beach: sanderlings, turnstones, dunlins, western sandpipers, knots, willets, black-bellied plovers, semipalmated plovers, and sometimes the endangered piping plover.
The north beach of Tybee is at the mouth of the Savannah River, where it meets with the Atlantic Ocean. In the winter scores of Northern Gannets circle and dive into the waters at the river’s entrance. The river’s mouth is also the winter home for loons (common and red necked), scaup, bufflehead, black scoters, ruddy ducks and mergansers. Of course, it is also a year round home for terns, gulls, pelicans, and cormorants. In the winter look for Caspian terns, greater and lesser black-backed gulls and Bonaparte’s gulls.
Note: The north beach is also the best place on Tybee to find shells and fossil shark’s teeth. Also keep an eye just offshore for one of our friendly bottlenose dolphins.
Little Tybee Island
Just south of Tybee you can find a wilderness island of marshes, forests, and pristine uninhabited beaches named Little Tybee Island. It is an undisturbed nature preserve owned by the State of Georgia, Department of Natural Resources. The are no hotels or other dwellings on the island, but camping is allowed. The only way to get to Little Tybee is by boat. Many local charter services on Tybee will take you to tour the island or to camp. Rarities that have been sighted on Little Tybee include: roseate spoonbill, reddish egret, and the curlew sandpiper. Osprey and bald eagles nest on the island.
In the winter large numbers of shorebirds gather to rest on its beaches including whimbrels, dowitchers, and piping plovers. Egrets, herons, ibis, and storks are numerous and there are a few nesting spots on the island for these birds. In the summer oystercatchers, Wilson’s plover, and the endangered Least Tern nest on its undisturbed beaches. These birds are easy to see but you are requested to stay away from the posted nesting sites.
Fort Pulaski National Monument
Located just off of Highway 80, just before reaching Tybee Island, rests the 5,600 acre Ft. Pulaski National Monument. The monument consists of McQueen’s Island, Cockspur Island, and the adjacent salt marsh. These diverse habitats are home to 200 species of birds. In the spring and summer look for the painted bunting along the edges of the woodlands. This is also an excellent place to spot migratory songbirds in spring, late summer, and the fall. There is a small fee to enter the monument.
The Painted Bunting
The most colorful bird of our southeast coast is the painted bunting. It is a sparrow sized bird colored red, blue, green, and brown. This bird, the official bird of the City of Tybee Island, can be found in any area on our island which has dense thickets of native shrubbery, especially the thickets of wax-myrtle just behind our sand dunes. The painted bunting is a summer resident; it spends its winter in Central and South America.
One publicly accessible locale where the painted bunting resides is the Sally Pearce Nature Trail on Highway 80 at 5th Avenue. This piece of native maritime forest is also home to many forest birds: brown thrashers, woodpeckers, titmice, chickadees, warblers, and the great crested flycatcher. During fall and spring, this forested area is a great place to look for migrants, including more than 30 species of warblers.
Special thanks to Mallory Pearce for supplying text and drawings.