Brush Piles – What Are They and How Are They Beneficial?

Brush Piles become important wildlife habitats in residential areas, as seen by this Magpie!
Brush piles, like this one, are important make-shift wildlife habitats, especially in more residential areas where they have been pushed out! Here you can see Magpies have made a home.

What are they? Short story – Brush piles are basically large piles of sticks and branches that provides basic needs for an animal. Long story, they are built with a base of large logs and rocks with spaces between them so that animals like mice, squirrels, chipmunks, birds, salamanders, fox, raccoons, skunks, and rabbits can have fast and easy access. Twigs, branches, leftover garden cuttings, out of season Christmas Trees, and native grasses can be stacked and tucked into the top of the base.

 

The best brush pile location is near a tree line, a back corner of your property away from any buildings, or near where other wild and native plants are growing. Try to make sure that at least half of the pile gets direct sunlight as many animals love to bask! If you are worried that wildlife won’t use it during the winter due to snow and ice accumulation, weave evergreen branches around the top of the pile to keep the cold weather out! If there are any guidelines as to what you are or are not allowed to have on your property, make sure that the Homeowner’s Association approves the brush pile first.

If you or your neighbors don’t like the idea of having what seems to be a huge pile of sticks and branches just sitting in your backyard, don’t worry! Adding crawling plants like Morning Glories or Clematis can attract pollinator insects and birds and these vibrant flowers will make the pile look like a hill of flowers!

Now, why are they beneficial?  Brush piles are designed to provide three basic things for animals: Food, Shelter, and Space. Insects will eat the wood, providing food for animals such as woodpeckers and any insectivorous animal. The native grasses can provide food for small mice that then become food for larger animals like fox, owls, hawks, and snakes. In suburban areas, many wild species have lost homes due to habitat destruction, so putting brush piles in back yards, even small ones; helps encourage wildlife to come back and gives them a space in which to inhabit.

Placing bird feeders near to a brush pile can be a welcome addition for birds that have made a home in the pile. While they are flying to the bird feeder and are there, they are easy prey for larger birds to come in and scoop up. Having this brush pile can provide them a safe place to go and shorten the journey they have to make to the feeder.

Not only do the piles protect animals, but they give you something productive to do with twigs and branches. If there was a storm and it knocked down branches, add them to the pile. If gardening season is over and you need to cut the tops of your plants to ensure good growth for future years, add the cutting to the pile. Wondering what to do with your Christmas tree once the holidays are over? Place it strategically in the pile to make it a great home for animals. Are you preparing firewood for the winter? Add the woodchips, any small limbs, or unwanted logs to the base of your pile. Get creative and use what you have available!

Need some more ideas for your Brush Pile? Check these resources out!

Building Brush Piles with Native Plants

Bird Watching and Brush Piles

BCAS Environmental DIY on Pinterest

Brush Piles 101

Gardening for Wildlife

National Audubon Society

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