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The Registry of Nature Habitats - Brush Piles

Components of a Nature Habitat

Structural:

Living:

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Not everyone will be blessed with all sixteen Habitat Components on their property. This does not mean that introducing as many as possible will not enhance wildlife. The key is to understant each of the components, what they are, how they assist in nature and what wildlife will be assisted by their availability.

Structural

Brush & Rock Piles -All wildlife species need a place to escape from predators, rest in safety, nest, and reproduce. Such places are normally provided by some kind of cover. In areas where cover is inadequate, proper location and construction of brush piles can improve wildlife habitat for a number of species. Brush piles will provide relatively safe access to food sources and allow for increased use of the area. Brush piles can be placed at intervals along field borders, near fence rows or throughout overgrown fields.Brush piles should be built upon bases of larger materials that will assure tunnels and openings at ground level. Three types of bases work particularly well-large pole-size logs, stumps, and piles of rocks. A pile should be about 15 feet wide with larger rocks or logs on the bottom and smaller ones on top. It should also be in a sheltered area. 

Brush Pile Components Brush piles have two basic components-a base and a brushy top. The base raises the brush pile off the ground and creates tunnels for dens, nests and escape routes. The brushy top protects this space from predators. Base materials can vary depending on what you have nearby. The most common materials are stones and logs. The stones should be about 8 to 12 inches in diameter and placed in three loose piles, each at the corner of a triangle. The logs, 4 to 6 inches in diameter, should be cut between 4 and 6 feet long and placed, log cabin-style, 4 feet high. Oak, black locust, cedar and other hardwoods make good bases because they resist rotting. Other good base materials include large stumps, cull logs or old fence posts. A few PVC pipes or drain tiles provide escape tunnels for small mammals. As you build the base, add branches into the interior of the structure.

After the base has been completed, pile on the brush-placing the larger, stouter limbs first, and smaller limbs last. You may need to occasionally place heavier branches on top to keep the stacked brush in place. Be sure to place the individual branches at different angles and directions to ensure that the materials lock together and form air spaces. After the pile reaches about 6 or 8 feet in height, begin placing branches around the sides. Occasionally stick branches into the pile with the large end first to add stability to the pile. When finished, your brush pile should be about 6 to 8 feet high and 6 to 8 feet wide, and shaped like an igloo. You can also build smaller brush piles, they just won't attract as many animals. Encourage the growth of grasses and vines through your brush piles; they add density and permanence to the piles.

Though your brush pile should last from ten to 15 years, it will require periodic maintenance. About every six years or so, add new brush to renew the pile. As the pile finally begins to deteriorate beyond usefulness, construct a new brush pile adjacent to the old one. Don't tear down the existing one, as you may be disturbing a few lingering tenants. By building next to the old pile, you will be providing a continuous source of cover. Brush Pile Placement Build most of your brush piles within or near woods. This is most easily accomplished after a timber sale. A good rule of thumb is to build two to four brush piles per acre, spaced about 100-150 feet apart.

Forest wildlife quickly inhabit brush piles, especially after a harvest. Place others along fence rows or your yard border. Also, there are a few places not to place a brush pile. To avoid pest problems, locate your brush pile well away from your garden and house. No sense feeding the rabbits or attracting unwanted skunks and rodents. And, if attracting small mammals is your goal, don't place a brush pile under a snag where hawks and owls can launch their attack…although they need to eat too.

Throughout the eastern US, the tilled earth contains an abundance of rocks…most left behind by melting glaciers. Many farm fields are outlined with rock walls or have a large rock pile dumped in some forgotten corner by generations of farmers who annually added to the collection each spring after heaving frosts worked new rocks to the field surface. These may be found in or near woodlands or grasslands. Some may even be natural rocky outcroppings-a glacial deposit. Rock piles and walls provide special habitats for wildlife. Chipmunks, skunks and other small rodents and snakes are partial to these hard, sun-warmed quarters. A wide variety of ants and other invertebrates live beneath rocks which are in direct contact with the earth. Ant colonies can also thrive in them and provide food for a host of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. If you are interested in providing habitat for this kind of wildlife, then you may want to place PVC pipes or drain tiles within the rocks. Pipes and tiles create very effective escape tunnels and den sites for rock pileloving wildlife. Or, just leave them alone. But if grassland birds and prairie restoration is your goal, bury them. That's because some rock-pile-loving wildlife, such as skunks and raccoons, prey on grassland bird eggs and will defeat your efforts.

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The Registry of Nature Habitats
PO Box 321
Meridale, NY 13806
Copyright 1999 - All Rights Reserved

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