Birds of Kiawah Checklist

Kiawah Island is home to more than 200 species of birds, ranging in size from the tiny ruby-throated hummingbird all the way up to the bald eagle. Check out this checklist of the birds of Kiawah Island published buy the Town of Kiawah.

Checklist of the Birds of Kiawah Isalnd, South Carolina: Town of Kiawah Island, February 2017

Please report any rare or unusual sightings to the Town of Kiawah Island wildlife biologists at 843-768-9166 or agiven@kiawahisland.org.

Ringed-billed Gull
Larus delawarensis

Ring-billed gulls are medium sized birds with gray backs and white heads. As one would imagine, a ring-billed gull has a black ring on its yellow bill. However, one of the most distinguishing features of this bird is its distinct white spots on jet black wing tips. The ring-billed gull is reportedly the most common gull in North America. Although they are present year-round at Kiawah's beach and ponds, the are most common in the winter.

Photo by Pamela Cohen

Herring Gulls
Larus argenatus

Herring gulls, the most widespread gull in North America, are some of the larger gulls on the Island. Adults have white heads, pale gray backs, and yellow bills with a red spot on the lower beak. Immatures are brownish with black tipped pink bills. An easy way to identify a herring gull is by the way that it eats. Herring gulls will fly up in the air and drop a clam on the beach to open the shell, being careful with the timing since he doesn’t want another bird to steal his food. Although herring gulls are seen year-round on Kiawah, they are more commonly seen on Kiawah’s beach and ponds during the winter.



Gulls are the most common bird that you will see on Kiawah’s beach any time of the year. They’re about 16 inches tall, with gray upper bodies, white under bodies, webbed feet, and medium sized stout beaks with a hook on the end.  These highly adaptable birds eat crabs, small fish, crustaceans, and insects, but mostly they are scavengers, stealing scraps of food, garbage, and even other birds’ eggs. They are quick and sneaky birds, often waiting near other birds, hoping that they will drop their lunches. 

Although there are a number of different species of gulls on the Island, young gulls of all species look somewhat alike, with brownish speckled feathers. If you quietly watch the gulls, you may notice some interesting ways that they interact with each other. One gull may display dominance by loudly cackling, nodding his head and upper body, flapping his wings, and even chasing other birds away. Notice how gulls show submission, by turning their heads and walking away. One of the benefits of gulls is that they will eat anything. These assertive and adaptable birds are survivalists, and are quite helpful in keeping our beach clean.

Photo by Jim Chitwood

Laughing Gull
Leucophaeus atricilla

Laughing gulls are medium-sized seagulls. During the summer, they have dark gray backs, black heads, and red bills. As winter approaches, their feathers molt leaving behind lightened white heads with gray smudges and dark bills. Laughing gulls are common year-round on Kiawah's beaches, ponds, creeks, and marshes. 

If you happen to be eating on the beach, you may hear the loud cackling of laughing gulls before you see them. They often congregate in groups of other gulls and may even intermingle with other species of birds on the beach.

Photo by Pamela Cohen