Tybee Island is on the Colonial Coastal Birding trail and hosts over 211 bird species. Located on the Atlantic Flyway, Tybee is the host to tens of thousands of migratory birds, making Tybee and Little Tybee a perfect destination for bird watchers. Tybee is also a safe haven and winter destination for wintering shorebirds like the endangered Piping Plover, Purple Sandpiper, Red Knot, Black Bellied Plover, Dunlin and many more. No matter if you are a birder that stays on the veranda, beats the bush, or just strolls on the beach, Tybee Island’s bird population will keep you entertained from any location.
One of the easiest locations to find excellent birding is on the north beach near the Tybee Island Light Station. From the beach you will see the Northern Gannett, various Terns, ducks and gulls flying offshore, or probing in the sand for food. The rock jetty at the edge of the water is the place to find the Purple Sandpiper. Walk further north toward the Savannah River and you will see mixed flocks of shorebirds roosting, including the American Oystercatcher, Black Backed Gulls, Black Skimmers, Red Knots and Plovers.
The American Oystercatcher is rare with approximately 90 breeding pairs in Georgia. However, they are regularly seen on Tybee’s beaches and tidal creeks, perched on the oyster rakes waiting for the oysters to open up. The Oystercatcher uses their bill to pry open the oysters for a treat. The Black Skimmer is also often clustered here in numbers of 100 or more.
Look closely at birds on Tybee and see if you spot a band. Many of the Piping Plovers and Oystercatchers will have a color band on them. The Bird Banding program, administered by the United States Geological Survey and Canadian Wildlife Service, is a program that studies the movement, survival and behavior of birds. To report a banded bird, call 1-800-327-2263. The Bird Banding Laboratory will take the report and pass it on to the bird’s original bander. Eventually (it can take a while!), you will get a note telling you where and when the bird was originally banded. Tybee’s local birders can pinpoint a small group of approximately 12 banded Piping Plovers that spend their winters here and their summers in the Great Lakes.
Year round, Tybee Islanders often see, and hear, the American Oystercatcher, Great Blue Heron, Black and Yellow Crowned Night Heron, Green Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Louisiana Heron, Black Skimmer, Clapper Rail, Osprey, Brown Pelican, Cormorant, and Willet. In the winter, Tybee sees a variety of ducks/water fowl including Bufflehead, Merganser (both Hooded and Red Breasted), Loons, and Scoters.
The Sally Pearce Nature Trail is a great place to stop for the amateur botanist and birder. Although it is a short walk, it is a good spot for warblers, the Painted Bunting, and many different local plants.
Birders should also visit Little Tybee Island, an uninhabited island just south of Tybee. Little Tybee is a 7,600 acre Natural Heritage Preserve owned by the state of Georgia. The birding is spectacular as it is undisturbed and only accessible by boat. Contact a local captain/naturalist or a kayaking outfit to set up a visit.
Fort Pulaski is also a point of interest for birders. The marsh that surrounds the fort and near-by Lazaretto Bridge is a great spot in the winter for Sparrows, both varieties of Sharp-tail, as well as Marsh Wrens. There are plenty of trails to walk around on and you may spot a flock of Cedar Waxwings. This is another good spot for warblers and the Painted Bunting. On the bridge leading to the fort look out for Forester’s Terns lining the railing in winter. We welcome you and may you have great birding!