Vol. 12 Issue 3, Fall 2007
By Emily Bzdyk
Autumn is approaching, and we all take notice as the weather turns cool and the leaves turn colors. As annual plants die back and leaves begin to fall, our local wildlife runs out of places to hide. Meanwhile, we may be wondering what to do with the fallen leaves and branches on our property. This year you can solve this problem and promote the survival of your wild friends by using natural debris to build a brush pile. You can set aside an area on your property and preserve wild habitat with a brush pile that provides cover and shelter for small wild animals.
In many areas of our county natural shelter is scarce, and cover becomes even more critical in the wintertime. Wildlife like ground-nesting birds, reptiles and amphibians, chipmunks, rabbits, and other small mammals need shelter from weather and concealment from predators. A brush pile will also set up a means for seed germination and plant growth in the spring.
When deciding the placement of the pile, it is important to consider the needs of the animals you hope to attract and support. Pick a place where there is a lack of natural cover, like clearings, open fields, fence rows, or near woodland edges. It also helps to choose a site near other locations animals use, such as existing food sources, nesting areas, or water sources (like ponds and streams). Several piles are better than one, because animals can use them as a network, and you attract a greater variety of life. Avoid fire risks by keeping the pile away from buildings or trees.
To build the pile, you can use wood and plant materials, or even stones or tires. You may want to coordinate the construction of the pile with some other fall landscaping activity like tree removal, brush control, pasture or cropland clearing, garden pruning, or fence repair. Brush piles can be arranged as a mound or teepee. Different-sized piles will attract a variety of wildlife.
In general, the pile should be anywhere from 4 to 8 feet tall and 10 to 20 feet in diameter at the base. In the teepee design, untrimmed branches can be arranged in a teepee/cone shape, freestanding or perhaps over a stump. In the mound design, use a strong bulkier material to create a sturdy base, or framework. Logs 6 inches in diameter or several large stones will do best.
Oaks, locust, and other rot-resistant trees make durable bases. The log base is constructed like Lincoln logs or a pallet with limbs at right angles to each other. You could also use large stumps, fence posts, metal grills, or cinder blocks. First, nail the wood together or use wire to connect the base pieces. Then, add layers of smaller branches and materials as filler. Leaves and clippings can be added around the base, and old Christmas trees are also useful as filler. You can also plant native vines such as trumpet vine, Virginia creeper, or wild grape to hold the pile together and make it more attractive to wildlife and more pleasing to the eye.
As time goes by, the pile will naturally rot, which is certainly not a problem. The decaying process attracts insects, providing food for birds and other animals using the pile. As the pile loses stability, you can create another. The environment will benefit from your brush pile and you will be rewarded with the opportunity to witness more of the natural world in your own backyard.
“Brush Piles 101.” The Humane Society of the United States. 2007. 3 Aug. 2007: http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/resources/tips/brush_piles.html
Tjaden, Robert L., and Jonathan Kays. “Wildlife Management: Brush Piles.” College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. 2003. University of Maryland. 3 Aug. 2007: https://extension.umd.edu/sites/default/files/_docs/programs/woodland-steward/FS599_WMgtBrushPiles.pdf