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Wildlife and Sustainability

Most of us who live on the island enjoy watching wildlife, whether it's an alligator or turtles basking, a bald eagle fishing or a group of deer wandering in the dunes. All of the species of plants and animals on Hilton Head Island, however, are part of the biodiversity and ecosystems here, and play major roles in the overall health of the island.

One of the things we can do to help wildlife is to preserve their habitat when we build a house. In the past, single family lots were cleared completely before the house was built. Now, most owners recognize the value of trees in saving energy by providing shade and blocking wind, providing beauty and adding to the value of the property. But many of us still don't realize the importance of the other vertical layers to both wildlife and the environment. The smaller trees, shrubs and soft-bodied plants (herbaceous plants) that live below the larger trees in our forests provide the majority of habitat for our wildlife. Once we remove these layers, we remove the habitat wildlife need to survive.

Actions you can take at home to be a good wildlife steward:

  1. Preserve or create a backyard habitat. Save as many native plants as you can when building or landscaping. Non-native plants often cannot replace our native plants for wildlife food or shelter. If you have a yard that has been completely cleared, look at nearby native areas and plant natives similar to those you see. If you can't identify a native plant you find, try contacting Clemson Extension Service for help. To learn more about certifying your yard as a backyard habitat, go to the National Wildlife Federation website at www.nwf.org.

  2. Be sure to have some areas of dense vegetation (thickets) to serve as refuges for nesting, resting or hiding from predators for birds and smaller animals.

  3. Have a source of drinking water for wildlife, such as a bird bath or a basin on the ground. Since we live on a barrier island that often experiences droughts, a source of drinking water is critical year-round.

  4. Have native plants that are food sources for wildlife, such as trumpet vine or cross vine for nectar for hummingbirds; live oaks, water oaks and laurel oaks for acorns for deer, turkey and other birds; yellow and blue flowered plants for honeybees; common milkweed, purple coneflower and butterfly bush for butterflies; passion flower for honeybees and as host plants for zebra long wing butterfly caterpillars; saw palms for berries for birds, deer and other mammals, etc.

  5. One of the biggest killers of our birds is collisions with manmade structures. For ideas on decreasing bird collisions with windows in your home, visit the American Bird Conservancy at www.abcbirds.org/abcprograms/policy/collisions/ and select "Prevent Collisions at Home".

  6. Look for "greener" ways of dealing with pests, such as integrated pest management rather than pesticides (see Sustainable Landscaping page) to protect the environment, your family and our wildlife. If you have a woodpecker drilling holes into your house siding, try providing a nest box for that species close to where it is excavating. Pesky squirrels? Try suggestions in the book "Outwitting Squirrels" or "Outwitting Critters".

  7. Got snakes that freak you out? They play critical roles in the environment as controllers of rats and mice. The great majority of snake species on the island are non-poisonous and harmless to humans. Instead of killing them or having a heart attack, visit the Florida Museum of Natural History website at www.flmnh.ufl.edu/herpetology/fl-guide/gettingalong.htm for information on getting along with snakes.

  8. Educate yourself on the amazing types of wildlife we have here on the island, how they live, and what their roles are in the ecology of the island.

  9. When driving, be on the lookout for wildlife along the road edges or crossing the roadway. Many of our native mammals are especially active at dusk, dawn and nighttime; look for eye shine along the roadways and slow down. If there is wildlife in the roadway, slow down, blink your lights several times and beep your horn. Don't lean on your horn or use your high beams, as both can confuse animals and make them freeze in place.

  10. If you see injured wildlife on the island, you can call the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Hotline (24 hours a day/7 days a week) at 1-800-922-5431. There are also for-profit companies on the island that will often rescue wildlife; consult the yellow pages under "Wildlife Management".

One of the major goals of sustainability is to preserve biodiversity, all of the different life forms on the planet. All life on earth is connected through the flow of energy (planetary food web), and each time a species becomes endangered or lost to extinction, one more part of that energy flow is lost. We should all make an effort to be more aware of the important roles each species plays on the planet, and be more tolerant of them.

Learn more about our local Wildlife