Galveston Island Animals to Discover on Your Next Visit

Galveston isn’t just a popular beach destination for people – it’s home to a wide variety of flora & fauna as well!

With 32 miles of beaches and year-round temperate weather, Galveston Island has a lot to offer for permanent residents and seasonal visitors alike – weather they’re slimy, scaled or feathered! Raucous seagulls and silent saltwater fishes aren’t the only type of Galveston Island animals you’ll come across while spending time here on the upper Texas coast.

Read on for some fun facts about a few of our favorite Galveston Island animals! All the creatures listed below can be spotted year-round, but some are much easier to find during specific seasons.

Springtime Galveston Animals

Roseate Spoonbills

Roseate Spoonbills flying over marsh grass Galveston Island

While Roseate Spoonbills are common on the island year-round, their unique pink coloring is especially vibrant in the spring during their mating and nesting season. Yes, just like their more well-known distance relatives the flamingos, Roseate Spoonbills get their pink coloring from their diet. This can include crustaceans, insects, frogs and small fish. Their coloring can vary from a pale pink to a bright magenta.

Spoonbills are unique in both the way they feed and in the way they fly! They collect their food by sweeping their head side to side in shallow water to collect what they can. These long birds are quite muscular, and they fly with their heads pointed straight out to help keep their balance. This eye-catching avian is unique to the Gulf Coast, yet is one of the more common Galveston Island animals – sometimes you don’t even need binoculars to catch sight of them!

Coyote-Red Wolf Hybrids

Coyote Red Wolf Hybrid against grasses Galveston Island

Perhaps the most unique Galveston citizen are these wild canines that have been found to be half coyote and half red wolf! They lack the adaptability of the coyote and the aggressive pack mentality of the wolf. So, don’t be scared off by the name, because these canines are actually quite shy and tend to stay clear of human activity.

These limited-population canines can typically be spotted (and heard!) in the dusk or dawn hours of the day. The coyote-red wolf hybrids live on the island year-round, but the mating season is in February and the pups are typically born between April and May.

Blue Crabs

Blue Crab in water Galveston Island

Galveston has quite a few different types of crabs, but the blue crabs are one of the most economically important fisheries of the Gulf. Blue crabs like to burrow in softer mud or hide in sea grasses. They are what are known as bottom dwellers, and enjoy eating clams, oysters and mussels. Spawning season for blue crabs is from December to October, with the peak occurring in the spring and summer months. Blue crab hunting happens year-round in Galveston, except for the month of February!

Get the whole family in on the fun! Find & catch blue crabs hanging out in the bays and mud flats on the north side of the island.

Did you know? Blue crabs get their names from the color of the claws, which vary in shades of blue, but the females can always be spotted easily because the tips of their claws are red!

Summer Fun Galveston Animals

Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles

Kemps Ridley Sea Turtle on Beach

Galveston is a great place to catch a glimpse of some turtles, especially in the summertime! Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are the smallest of all marine turtles, and one of only two species that have mass synchronized nestings called “arribadas”, which is the Spanish word for arrival.

You may see some turtle nests, a momma turtle coming to lay her eggs, or even some turtle hatchlings on the beach, but remember – they are the most endangered sea turtle in the world so do not touch the eggs or nests!

If you spot a nest or a stranded/injured sea turtle report them to 1-866-TURTLES.

These are one of our favorite annual Galveston Island animals, and Galveston also has a fun, public art project known as Turtles About Town. Designed to showcase our little local friend and help support the conservation efforts of Turtle Island Restoration Network, this “turtle trail” is a great way to spend a day exploring the island. Local businesses around Galveston, including Sand ‘N Sea, sponsored the turtles while local artists were commissioned to give each turtle their own unique personality and meaning!

Turtles About Town was dreamed up & organized by the local leaders for Turtle Island Restoration Network and the owner of Clay Cup Studios. Check out our interactive Turtles About Town map and see how many statues you can find on your next trip to Galveston Island!

Ghost Crabs

Ghost crabs are another crustacean that calls Galveston home! Also known as sand crabs because they are pale in color, these little guys blend in beautifully with their surroundings.

They are nocturnal, but can occasionally be seen during the daytime too – so keep your eyes peeled when you’re hanging out on the beach! You’ll have to be quick, because these little guys can move up to 10 miles per hour!

While they also burrow, similar to the blue crabs, their homes are a little more unique. Their burrows are dug at a 45-degree angle to the surface, and can reach up to four feet deep!

Fun Fact: Their burrows entrances are angled like that to allow the breeze to blow inside for additional ventilation – even the crabs know you need AC during the hot Texas summer!

Winter Wonder-Island Animals

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes, nicknamed Sandies, are one of only two crane species typically found in Texas. Birders travel from all around to watch these stately avians in the open pastures on the West End of the island during their annual winter migration.

If you know the right places to look, Galveston’s Sandhill Cranes are easy to find. These birds stand nearly 4 feet tall and have distinctive red crowns on the top of their heads. If that bright crown doesn’t your attention, you’ll definitely hear their strident trumpeting call. Sandhill Cranes are also known for dancing! They like to stretch their wings, pump their heads, bow and leap.

Check out the pastures along 9 Mile Road, Pabst Road and 11 Mile Road during December & January for the best chance to see these beauties!

Sand ‘N Sea is proud to be a sponsor of Holiday with the Cranes, a celebratory & educational event put on annually each December by the Galveston Island Nature Tourism Council.

Piping Plovers

Unlike their wintering neighbors the Sandhill Cranes, Piping Plovers are small and can be easily missed! These delicate birds are scant in size, weight and wingspan. Combine that with their sandy gray color, and these birds are masters at invisibility!

Piping Plovers migrate south to spend the winter here with us on the island, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled for these little cuties! They are protected under the Endangered Species Act, so when you do see one, be sure to keep your distance so they can continue to vacation with us here in the winter!

American White Pelican

American White Pelican Galveston Island

Pelicans may be the first bird that comes to mind when you think about Galveston Island animals, but what may not be known is there are two different types that call our island home!

The American White Pelican primarily breeds in the interior states of North America. They then migrate south to the coasts, but only for the winter – just like our Galveston Winter Texan vacation rental guests! American White Pelicans follow the “bigger is better” mantra that Texas is known for with a whopping 9-foot wide wingspan.

Unlike other pelican species, these large birds don’t dive for fish. Instead, they forage by swimming and dipping. It’s typical to see large colonies in the marshes and around the inlets along the northern edges of Galveston Island. They can also be spotted flying high above the Gulf and bay, especially near the Bolivar Jetty.

Year-Round Galveston Island Animals

Bottle Nose Dolphins

Did you know that Galveston Bay boasts a resident group of these exciting marine mammals? These fun mammals can be spotted by themselves or in small groups known as pods, and are part of an ongoing study by the Galveston Bay Dolphin Research Program – check out their great pictorial guide to meet the dolphins that call Galveston Bay home!

A helpful hint for spotting a dolphin: watch for where the birds are feeding! Underneath the surface of the water that birds are typically feed at, there are dolphins feeding in the water. They also love to surf in the wake of the ferry and other vessels in the shipping channel.

Another great way to increase your chances of seeing a dolphin is to catch a ride on the free Galveston-Bolivar ferry – the dolphins love to swim alongside. Or, book a spot on the Dolphin Watch harbor tour at Pier 21!

Brown Pelicans

Brown Pelican on Side of Fishing Boat Galveston Island

Brown Pelicans are permanent residents here on Galveston Island. They can be seen flying over all of Galveston’s beaches, bays and inlets. Day-trippers to Galveston can always catch sight of them from the Seawall as the pelicans dive into the water to retrieve their meals.

When Brown Pelicans plunge headfirst into the water, their gular (throat) can fill up with up to 2.5 gallons of water! They then tilt their heads to drain off the saltwater before they swallow their delicious fishy meal!

Brown Pelicans are rarely spotted inland, as their preferred habitat is along the coastline and on breeding colony islands. These coastal creatures nest from February to July, though most eggs hatch by late May.

Places to Stay in Galveston

Galveston’s West End is the perfect place to rest your head after hours of exploration of the habitats that Galveston Island animals call home. Book a beach house for the best home-away-from-home amenities. You’ll love the large living spaces, fully stocked kitchens, private bedrooms and decks with panoramic views of the Gulf or bay.

Sand `N Sea manages over 150 of the best vacation rentals on the West End, and we would love to you welcome you (and your pup!) to explore our island home soon!