The Island’s diverse ecosystems and habitats are home to an equally diverse variety of wildlife. The preservation of the natural landscape and wildlife protocol allows us to honor, respect, and when necessary manage the Island’s diverse species.
The following excerpts focus on living with wildlife. Please scroll down the page to view all categories.
These tiny biting flies appear when air temperatures are approximately 65-75 ºF and there is little breeze. Therefore, they can be most problematic during the prettiest fall and spring days! They are common in moist sandy soils, on irrigated lawns or near the salt marsh.
The best defense against these aggravating insects is to liberally apply an insect repellent with DEET to a hat and a lightweight long-sleeved shirt. Some people find a mix of Skin-So-Soft with an equal part of alcohol-based hand sanitizer works well to repel these biting flies.
Commercial companies now offer misting systems that claim to control no-see’ums in residential landscapes. The mist contains a pyrethroid insecticide that can also kill butterflies and honeybees as well as larval shrimp and crabs. These systems are not effective when there is a breeze.
Prior to an outdoor social event on a lawn no-see’ums can be temporarily eradicated by a one-time application of crystals containing pyrethroids. These crystals should not be used near a wetland and should not be applied if rain is imminent.
The imported red fire ant (Solenopsis invicta), is an invasive species that was brought to the United States during the 1930s. The species has now infested much of the southern United States.
Fire ants can inflict quite a painful bite and sting. In certain cases, fire ant stings can be severe, resulting in anaphylactic shock and, in extreme cases, death. Non-life-threatening stings are treated with antihistamines and topical hydrocortisone. Fire ants build nests and live in colonies that usually consist of above-ground mounds and elaborate underground chambers. They may be found in rotting logs, under building foundations or around trees and stumps.
If the mound is disturbed, fire ants will quickly rush out to attack aggressively. Colonies are more commonly found in open, sunny areas such as lawns, fields and pastures. Fire ants are not usually found in forested, shady areas. They are omnivores and feed on a variety of foods including other arthropods, worms, seeds, nectar and even human food. Fire ants can have a major economic and ecological impact on areas they infest by injuring livestock, damaging crops and harming native species.
The eradication of fire ants is impossible. However, they can be controlled on a local scale by using a baited insecticide. Treating a yard by broadcasting the insecticide is a less desirable means of killing fire ants, as it will also kill other beneficial native insect species. It is important to follow package instructions when using commercial baits.
It will take several days for even the best product to work. Care must be taken not to apply the bait near the edge of the salt marsh because the active ingredients kill a variety of arthropods, including crustaceans.
Ticks are external parasites that feed on the blood of vertebrate animals such as birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. When ticks sense the chemicals released by the host (butyric acid) they drop from vegetation and attach themselves to the host with their mouthparts, feed on the host’s blood and drop off. They can transmit dangerous diseases like Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis and tick paralysis.
The best way to prevent tick bites is to wear long pants when in the woods and to wash all clothing as soon as you return to the house. Be sure to conduct a body check for unwelcome hitchhikers! If you regularly spend time outside, pay attention to any areas that itch like a mosquito bite.
If a small tick is present, simply scrape it off with your fingernail. Grasp larger ticks with fine-point tweezers at the point where the head attaches to the skin and pull it straight out. Wash your hands and the bite area with soap and water. If you experience a fever within three weeks after removing an embedded tick, visit a doctor. If you develop a bull’s-eye rash or a fever within days or weeks of a bite, a doctor may prescribe a round of antibiotics.
Mosquitoes are an unfortunate group of biting fly species. They are most active during the warm months at dusk and dawn but can be present any day of the year if conditions are favorable.
You can attract birds to your yard by offering them food, nesting habitat and water. The species of birds that come to your yard will depend on the habitat. Some birds need open areas and others need forests. Some species, such as chickadees and titmice, are generalists and are able to thrive in a wide variety of habitats.
Birdseed, suet and sugar solutions are the most common foods used to attract birds. Birds with a large bill, such as towhees and cardinals generally prefer large seeds like black oil sunflower seed. Small-billed seedeaters, such as buntings and chipping sparrows, prefer millet and other small seeds. Goldfinches have a special fondness for thistle seed.
Birds with slender bills typically eat insects, but they will also eat berries when available. During winter, some of these species will eat suet cakes or homemade recipes of suet and peanut butter. Species attracted to suet cakes include woodpeckers, warblers, chickadees, nuthatches, wrens, and occasionally bluebirds.
To attract hummingbirds hang a couple of red hummingbird feeders filled with a solution of 4 parts water to 1 part sugar in mid-March. Do not add red dye to the water; the red feeder will attract the birds. Placing feeders on different sides of your house will increase the number of visits because hummingbirds are very territorial. Feeders should be emptied and refilled once a week during warmer months. Even if you don’t see hummingbirds in the early summer you may attract them as they start their southern migration in July. Keep your feeders out as long as hummingbirds are present.
Attract orchard orioles by putting out orange slices or by having a hummingbird feeder that allows the oriole to perch while feeding.
Birdhouses attract bird species that typically nest in natural cavities that are often created by woodpeckers. Bluebirds require open areas with large areas of short grass — they avoid wooded areas. Species that use a nesting box include chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and Carolina wrens. A box with a slightly larger opening might attract a great crested flycatcher. European starlings also use boxes with larger holes. A funnel-shaped predator guard mounted on the box pole will reduce the risk posed by rat snakes and raccoons. Spring Island residents monitor bluebird boxes throughout the Island.
Purple martins will also use birdhouses, but only if the martin house is located in a wide-open area. On Spring Island purple martins are most often found at the end of a dock or in a large, open field.
Dead trees or snags also provide habitat for birds that nest in cavities.
Birds are attracted to water throughout the year. A water feature can be as simple as a dish under a faucet or as sophisticated as a recirculating, running stream of water cascading into a series of shallow pools. Drippers placed on a traditional birdbath will attract migrating birds. Birdbaths require regular maintenance because they quickly become overgrown with algae. Clean your birdbath with a weak bleach solution to kill algae and disease-causing bacteria.
If you are designing a water feature to be used by birds, make sure it has shallow areas (less than an inch deep) where small birds can stand in the water and bathe. A water feature with a gently sloping edge will provide varying depths for all sizes of birds. Water features with deep areas will attract small alligators.
Providing suitable habitat
Songbirds are abundant on Spring Island throughout the year because of the diversity of habitats, abundance of insects and numerous fruit-bearing plants. Caterpillars are an important food source during the breeding season. Weedy areas with host plants for butterflies and moths create excellent summer and fall feeding areas that also support grasshoppers and other insects that overwinter on Spring Island.
If you plant the right species of shrubs and trees in your yard a wide variety of songbirds will be attracted year-round. The key is to provide berries in all seasons. In late summer fruits high in sugar are common. Some of the most popular native species are black cherry, devil’s walking stick and elderberry. In early fall the fruits of Virginia creeper, dogwood, beautyberry, blackgum and Jack-in-the-pulpit ripen and attract migrating warblers, thrushes and vireos. Some winter fruits, such as wax myrtle and sugarberry, have a long “shelf life” because they are high in wax. They are a critical food source during cold spells. Other fruits, such as the holly berries, remain on the plant for an extended period before birds such as cedar waxwings and wintering robins find them edible.
It is critical for songbirds to have the right habitat. Evergreen shrubs near a bird feeder or birdbath provide cover from Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawk attacks. A healthy, wide nature curtain also attracts birds during the nesting season. Towhees, white-eyed vireos and barred owls nest within these forested strips between adjacent homes.
Painted buntings are a favorite species on Spring Island. Thickets for nesting, patches of native grasses in seed and herbaceous plants provide important habitat for painted buntings, especially when they have young. They love feeders filled with white millet seeds. Buntings have virtually disappeared from other residential communities that are highly manicured.
During the past three decades our nation’s population of double-crested cormorants has grown exponentially. This fish-eating bird, a distant relative of pelicans, nests in large colonies in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions and winters along the southeastern coast from October-March. They have strong flocking behavior and will congregate in locations where the fishing is good. This causes conflict with those who maintain ponds stocked with fish.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service now provides permits to shoot cormorants when they create an economic hardship. These permits are very restrictive. They allow shooting a few birds to deter larger flocks from becoming habituated in stocked ponds. The POA maintains a permit for taking out cormorants at ponds that are stocked for trophy bass fishing.
Rookeries are relatively small areas in which large numbers of water birds congregate to nest. They are typically located in a place where it is difficult for predators to reach, such as an island or a group of trees located over water. A healthy heron-egret rookery in the lowcountry usually has a healthy alligator population present, which deters other predators.
During the severe drought of 1998-2003 herons and egrets abandoned rookeries in the region’s cypress swamps. In 1999 a few egrets began nesting in wax myrtle bushes overhanging the water at Night Heron Pond. The size of this colony quickly grew. In 2002 the birds moved to the island on the 16th fairway, which was created during the golf course’s construction to provide a rookery habitat. In 2012 wood storks, a federally protected species, moved into this rookery and by 2014 there were more than 55 wood stork nests.
Nesting birds create a heavy nutrient load that can cause algae blooms in ponds. Decaying algae can cause an obnoxious odor and a fish kill when the algae consumes the pond’s oxygen. To solve this problem at the 16th fairway pond, the POA installed an aeration system that uses submerged pumps to circulate the water. This has become a model for other communities with rookeries.
Another problem with rookeries is the high concentration of guano that kills the trees in which the birds are nesting. Adding several tons of lime per acre helps to neutralize the acidity of the accumulated bird droppings, but this must be applied during the non-nesting season. Inevitably some trees die and are subsequently replaced by species that are more tolerant of low pH conditions.
Roosts are areas where large numbers of birds congregate for the night or, in the case of some birds, when high tides prevent them from feeding. In the case of egrets, herons, ibis and storks, a rookery may become a roost after the breeding season is over.
Turkey vultures and black vultures also establish nighttime roosts. This can become a problem when they select a resident’s rooftop and their voluminous amounts of foul-smelling excrement pile up. The best solution to this problem is to scare birds off with loud noises as soon as they select a house as a roost. Security has noise devices to assist with this problem.
Nine-banded armadillos have spread rapidly throughout the Southeast during the last two decades and are common on Spring Island. Most scientists think that these armadillos are descendants of those that were introduced from Texas into Florida.
Armadillos have armored shells and long, plated tails and are about the size of a possum (8-17 lb). They are primarily insectivorous, feeding on insects, spiders, earthworms and occasionally small vertebrates. Armadillos have poor eyesight but an excellent sense of smell and locate their food by digging through leaf litter. Their voracious appetite for grubs, fire ants and other insects make them a beneficial pest-eating species. Unfortunately, they also tear up the ground as they search for their favorite foods and damage lawns and gardens.
Armadillos dig underground burrows up to 15′ in length. These burrows are often located in the banks of ditches, under stumps or near brush piles. They also can be found under the foundations of homes. Individuals may have multiple burrows in the same vicinity. In the spring the young are born inside the burrows. The litter consists of four genetically identical offspring of the same sex (quadruplets).
Armadillo traps can be baited with over-ripe fruit or earthworms. However, armadillos will walk directly into a trap if it is placed near the burrow or along the side of a building.
Awareness of the ecological value of bats is increasing because of the huge number of mosquitoes and other insects they consume. There are at least eight species of bats in the region. Some are colonial and others are solitary. The most common colonial bats on Spring Island are the free-tailed bat and the big brown bat. The most common solitary species on Spring Island are the Seminole bat, the evening bat, the southeastern myotis and the tri-colored (or pipistrelle) bat.
Bat houses advertised in magazines are generally ineffective on Spring Island because they are easily raided by rat snakes. Wooden purple martin houses or bluebird houses on poles are considerably more effective. The favorite daytime roost for the beautiful mahogany-colored Seminole bat is among the dead fronds of a cabbage palmetto. The Trust recommends leaving dead fronds on some of your cabbage palmettos to provide habitat for these bats.
At times bats select hollow columns on the exterior of Spring Island homes as a roosting site. If the accumulation of guano within the columns causes an offensive odor, a reputable animal control company can remove the bats without killing them and plug up the entry points. This should be done in the early spring or late fall when there are not likely to be baby bats.
Quality Deer Management (QDM) maintains a healthy herd with larger bucks. QDM is a strategy that involves herd habitat, hunter management and herd monitoring. Data are collected on every deer’s age, sex, body weight and antler spread (points and circumference) as well as reproductive success.
Effective QDM produces healthy deer herds that are characterized by large, mature bucks and balanced adult sex ratios. This approach typically involves the protection of young bucks and an adequate harvest of female deer to maintain a population that is appropriate for existing habitat conditions.
Most does produce twin fawns every year because of the high quality habitat on Spring Island. Older females are harvested, allowing the younger animals to mature. This improves the social dynamics of the herd and results in larger buck size, which creates a more exciting hunting experience.
Spotlight surveys are conducted annually to estimate the herd size. The results are tabulated before targets are set for the coming year.
Fox squirrels are a very unusual species and Spring Island is fortunate to have such a large population. Size alone is all that is needed to differentiate between an adult fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) and the common gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). Fox squirrels can weigh more than three pounds. They exhibit a variety of color morphs from immaculate black bodies to solid gray coloration with varying amounts of white and black on the head and tail. Most Spring Island specimens are gray and white but solid black specimens are not rare.
Fox squirrels can be found in live oak forests, pine savannas, yards and on the golf course. They may occupy a home range of 30 acres or more and feed on nuts, seeds, fruits, bird eggs and insects. They spend a great deal of time burying nuts and seeds. They often seem to forget where they hide the nuts and seeds so they are responsible for planting a lot of trees!
Mating behavior can be seen in the winter as male fox squirrels chase the females. These elaborate races involve leaping from tree to tree and racing across the ground at astonishing speed. Two to four kits are born in late February or March in a large leafy nest 30-40′ off the ground. There are many nests in the trees along Mobley Oaks Lane. Older females may have two litters in a year. The babies do not open their eyes for almost a month and they stay near the nest for their first 7-8 weeks of life. The females may bear young their first year and live 10 years or more in the wild. Fox squirrel predators include bobcats, coyotes, hawks, owls and rat snakes. Drivers should take care on all roads to avoid hitting them.
Otters are mustelids, a feisty group of mammals that includes weasels, ferrets and wolverines. They are sizeable mammals that range in weight from 15 -30 pounds and in length from 4-5′ long (including the tail). Males are usually much bigger than females. Their streamlined bodies and powerful limbs make them spectacular swimmers and agile hunters. They feed primarily on fish but also enjoy crayfish, crabs, frogs and snakes. They live in family groups of 5-12, hunting, playing and denning together. Otter families have sizable home ranges that encompass several square miles. They often live more than 10 years in the wild and even longer in captivity.
River otters have been on Spring Island for a very long time. Most of the otter activity takes place in the brackish/saltwater perimeter ponds like Otter and Rice Gate Ponds. These mammals spend much of their time in the salt marsh where crabs, mullet and other fish species are easily captured. Freshwater pond activity occurs mostly in the winter months when there is less food in the salt marsh.
Otters add to the value of the nature experience on Spring Island. Although otters sometimes feed on stocked fish and frolic in water features and water gardens, they are remarkable animals that certainly deserve a home on Spring Island.
Otters, eagles, herons, cormorants and mink feed on fish in our freshwater ponds. This predation by native species is a natural part of living within a nature preserve. Underwater structures provide places for fish to hide, thereby reducing the success of otters and other predators that are hunting them. Hundreds of structures have been added to the Goose Ponds, Tabby Links Ponds and Ruins Pond to protect the fishery.
Most adult Spring Island raccoons weigh 10-20 pounds but some individuals can reach almost 30 pounds! They are true omnivores, feeding on a variety of berries and plants as well as insects, fish, frogs, crayfish and small mammals. Many of our resident raccoons are marsh specialists that feed on a variety of crabs and fish. Their nimble fingers and monkey-like hands help them capture anything small enough to eat. Raccoons do not actually wash their food like the species name Procyon lotor (“a washer”) implies. They do, however, dip prey in the water to tear them apart and remove the unwanted portions of shell, bone and feathers.
Raccoons are considered cute by many, but in reality they are fierce creatures, making a variety of growls and hisses as well as baring vicious-looking teeth. They should not be handled or approached. The bite from a raccoon is very dangerous and rabies is a possibility. While primarily nocturnal, our raccoons sometimes feed in the daytime, especially in the winter, when they can be seen foraging at low tide in the salt marsh.
Raccoons can become serious pests because of their intelligence and the dexterity of their hands. They open cabinet doors, refrigerators and other food caches. They raid trashcans and feed from pets’ bowls. They put up quite a fight if they are so inclined. They have a special fondness for corn, which makes them very unpopular with farmers.
The raccoon management approach is that there are nuisance individuals that can be removed from a residence by trapping. This should take place from September 15 – March 15 when they do not have babies back in their den, which is generally a hollow in a tree. Raccoons can be captured using a variety of live-catch traps. If released, they often return to the same spot where they were captured. It is illegal to transport raccoons from one area to another because of the chance that one might also be transporting rabies into that area. Therefore, a resident who traps a raccoon must be prepared to kill the animal humanely (by shooting, not drowning).
Reptiles. Click Here to download this information.
The American alligator is one of the most spectacular animals in the southeastern United States. Once a federally endangered species, alligators have recovered in South Carolina. They are present in all Spring Island ponds.
The basic body of the alligator has not changed since the time of the dinosaurs. Males on Spring Island grow to 10-11′ (250-350 lb) and females grow to 7-8′ (100-150 lb). In the wild, alligators live more than 40 years.
Alligators move among the Spring Island ponds and into the surrounding salt marshes, creeks and rivers. The range of adult males is around 2,000 acres, roughly a third of the size of Spring Island, if you include the marsh.
Hatchlings and young alligators eat small fish, amphibians, insects, snails and crustaceans. Large ones feed on fish, turtles, snakes, birds and mammals. Alligators are often seen in the marsh or in saltwater ponds because blue crabs and mullet are among their favorite foods. Alligators are ectothermic (cold-blooded) and their feeding activity is dependent on body temperature.
Alligators are typically inactive during the winter months and are rarely seen except on warm winter days when they may come out to bask in the sun. Alligators seek refuge in dens, often constructed under pond banks.
During their courtship and mating season (April and May), males often bellow to attract females and warn off competing males. In June and July females lay 20-60 eggs in a nest constructed from leaf litter, vegetation and mud. Hatchlings emerge from the eggs in two months. Females protect their babies from predators such as wading birds, turtles, large fish and people. Hatchlings stay together in a pod for up to three years.
Children should never be allowed to fish without supervision. Pets should be kept away from pond edges and out of ponds altogether.
Snakes can be found in almost every habitat and are an important part of the biodiversity of Spring Island. They are valuable members of the food chain, serving as both predators and prey. They can also serve as indicators of habitat quality. Most of our species on Spring Island are nonvenomous and are harmless to people and pets. Killing snakes is strongly discouraged.
Snakes help to keep the mice population in balance and will likely move on when the prey population is diminished. To minimize the risk of being startled or bitten by a snake, be cautious when gardening or moving firewood from stacked piles. Keep pathways around your house clean so you can see cryptically colored snakes. Wear shoes when walking outside.
For your safety, we encourage all residents to learn to identify the different snakes on Spring Island. The Nature Center keeps live specimens of the snakes that are common on the Island and in the region.
The copperhead is a venomous species commonly found on Spring Island. A bite requires prompt medical attention! Copperheads have reddish hourglass shaped bands along the back and, as their name implies, copper-colored heads. rattle or button on the end of the tail is an easy way to distinguish our two rattlesnake species from other snakes. The canebrake rattlesnake is not as common as the copperhead but can still be found in many Spring Island habitats. There are several color variations, but all individuals have wavy cross-bands along the back. Most individuals have a reddish-brown stripe down the spine.
The diamondback rattlesnake is the most dangerous snake in the Southeast but it is extremely rare on Spring Island. It is a heavy-bodied snake with a distinct diamond shape pattern along the back.
Snake bites are very unusual and typically occur when people are walking in leafy areas wearing sandals, picking up wood without first looking under it or intentionally harassing snakes. In the highly unlikely event that you are bitten by a venomous snake, call 911 or have someone drive you to the hospital. Do not try to catch or kill the snake. Do not attempt to apply a tourniquet, make incisions or suck the poison out of the wound. These actions likely will make your condition worse. If a venomous snake bites your dog, call your vet. Most dogs survive snakebites with proper medical treatment.
40 Mobley Oaks Lane
Okatie, SC 29909