Build Your Own: Build a Brushpile

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 brushpile. Do not confuse the brushpile with your compost pile. Make sure the brushpile 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 brushpile the great hideout that it is.

To start a brushpile, 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 will 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.

To start your brushpile, place four logs or thick branches about 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. The pile can be a great winter hideout for rabbits, too, if you keep two of the corners of the four bottom logs at least 4 inches apart before adding the branches. Make the brushpile 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 create a honeycomb effect.

Brushpiles 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 brushpile is a great attraction that uses plant material that would otherwise be put out on the curb for trash.

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