Build Your Own: Build a Brush Pile

Create a winter shelter for wildlife in your backyard

High on the list of important microhabitats you can create for wildlife in your backyard is the brush pile. Do not confuse the brush pile with your compost pile. Make sure the brush pile is made with only branches, sticks, and twigs. No lawn clippings, leaves, or compost should be used, because they will compact and block off the many entrances and exits that make a brush pile the great hideout that it is.

To start a brush pile, pick a spot in the yard a distance from your house but still visible, so you can observe the pile’s inhabitants. The finished size is up to you, and may depend on the amount of room you have. A good rule of thumb is to make the pile about twice as wide as it is tall.

One way to start a brush pile is place four logs or thick branches roughly 6 feet long in a square. On top of these, place five or six thinner limbs, propping them against each other to form an inverted cone, or teepee shape. The leafy ends of the branches should be toward the ground. Place smaller branches, again with the leafy ends down, against the uprights to fill in the spaces.

This allows roosting birds access but keeps out nighttime predators such as raccoons, foxes, and cats. There’s no need to follow these instructions precisely. The goal is to have heavier materials at the bottom, and to provide stable hidey-holes and tangled escape routes throughout.

The pile can be a great winter hideout for rabbits, too, if you provide roughly four-inch entrance and exit holes on the bottom level before adding branches above. Make the brush pile thickest on the side facing the prevailing winds. Add more branches as the pile breaks down over the months and years. As you continue to build, crisscross the sticks to maintain a honeycomb effect.

Brush piles are one way a backyard wildlifer can attract many animal species. From shelter for wintering mammals to reproductive cover for low-nesting birds, or even as a spot for hibernating butterflies, the brush pile is a great attraction that uses plant material that would otherwise be put out on the curb for trash.

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