Wildlife Viewing Hot Spots on Jekyll Island

Wildlife Viewing Opportunities on Jekyll Island -

"For if one link in nature's chain might be lost, another might be lost, until the whole of things will vanish by piecemeal." – U.S. President Thomas Jefferson

One of the reasons we keep coming back to Jekyll Island is the accessibility to - and opportunities for - wildlife viewing.

By law, only 35% of Jekyll Island's land can be developed. The rest is to be kept natural. This is a blessing for those of us who love Jekyll Island and wildlife. It means there are many great places on the island to spot animals of all kinds.

Well, maybe not elephants. Or tigers. Or exotic species from other continents (actually, you can see them at Chehaw Wild Animal Park or The Jacksonville Zoo).

But deer, raccoons, squirrels, and marsh hares abound. So do birds of all kinds. And that ever-lovable fellow, the alligator.

Constructed Platforms for Wildlife Viewing -

There are two formal viewing platforms on Jekyll Island. The first is behind the Welcome Center, just before you reach the island entrance. It overlooks salt water marsh for the most part.

Deer Sightings Are Commonplace on Jekyll IslandDeer Sightings Are Commonplace on Jekyll Island

The other is at St. Andrews Picnic Area , close by Beach Creek.

Both platforms rise high above their surroundings, allowing families to watch for wildlife without disturbing them as they go about their everyday activities.

Other Great Places to Encounter Wildlife -

Less formal spots are everywhere.

First, you never know when a critter is going to appear. Evenings are perfect for wildlife viewing, as is early morning. But we've seen deer walking through neighborhoods in the heat of mid-day.

The Glory Beach boardwalk is a perfect spot for searching out wildlife. It starts at the Soccer Complex , and allows walkers to navigate through virgin maritime forest and dune habitat on their way to Glory Beach. Here you can have close encounters with deer, raccoons, marsh hares and birds aplenty. Spot these animals in the maze of trails criss-crossing the dunes and shrub forest growth.

Jekyll Island sits along the Atlantic Flyway, a migration route for many avian species. Good spots for observing birds are

  • behind the old Amphitheater just past the Historic District. Herons, wood storks, and cranes like to roost here
  • at South Dunes Beach , where migrating shore birds like to congregate
  • behind the Welcome Center

Deer also like the woods behind the Amphitheater, and it's not uncommon to spot them there, or grazing in the open grassed parking area before the Amphitheater

We've also seen deer when hiking or biking along the Mid-Island Forest Trail from Ben Fortson Parkway to the Historic District. Check out the pond when you get to it - it's a favorite haunt for gators.

Gator Hangouts -

Besides the aforementioned pond, alligators can be found in most any body of fresh water on Jekyll Island, and even in the brackish water at the mouths of creeks.

The two ponds at South Dunes will sometimes have small gators, as well as the pond across from Villas-by-the-Sea. It's funny, but I've never seen one in the pond behind the Amphitheater.

We've also spotted gators while golfing, in the golf-course ponds - and lying on the greens.

Turtles -

You can see sea turtles being rehabbed at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center but if you want to see them in the wild your best bet is to book a Turtle Walk through the Center. If you're on the beach at night during nesting season you have a fair chance of spotting them, lumbering up the sand to lay their eggs.

If you're out actively seeking turtles, make sure to abide by Jekyll Island's lighting ordinance, which is meant to protect these gentle giants. Be considerate of the turtles, stay well away from those laying eggs, and don't interfere with them, or with hatchling turtles.

If you spot a turtle that seems to be in distress, call the Georgia Sea Turtle Center at (912)635-4444.

Marsh Hares, Raccoons, and Squirrels -

There's nothing cuter than a marsh hare (no, not even those ever-lovable, always smiling gators). Scott used to call them "Mars" rabbits. You can spot these bunnies mostly at or just before twilight, nibbling grass at the edge environments where grass and brush or forest meet.

We see most marsh hares in June - for some reason, they seem more abundant then.

Raccoons are usually spotted moving through the marsh grass, or within the edge environments between marsh and forest. They're opportunistic, and won't hesitate to take a handout. Sometimes you'll encounter them hanging out at restaurants, looking for a sucker to panhandle from.

And squirrels - they're everywhere. Especially at South Dunes picnic area, where they've been known to extort peanuts from the Freeland family.

Other Wildlife Viewing Chances -

  • Walk along the Intra-coastal Waterway and look for low-flying pelicans or gulls.
  • Dolphins can be seen slowly cruising just off the beach, either singly or in pods of from 3 to 7, maybe more. You might also spot them in the rivers. You can book a Dolphin Tour through Coastal Georgia Charters and Tours. Call 912-635-3152.
  • Snakes? They're out there, but of all the times we've visited Jekyll Island, I've only seen two.
  • If you walk the shell drive that runs behind Rixen Pond, you might see osprey nests in some of the trees alongside the drive. I say might, 'cause nesting sites may change with the seasons.

From Driftwood Beach at the north to St. Andrew's Point to the south, and all coordinates in between, wildlife viewing opportunities on Jekyll Island have never been better.

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