Habitat in the backyard – Part 1: The beauty of a brush pile

Teach young children to encourage and observe wildlife in your home, school or daycare center by building a brush pile.

This is the first in a series of wildlife habitat articles that can help you encourage wildlife in your schoolyard, backyard, park or other public area. Children and adults enjoy observing wildlife. There are a number of small projects that could be done in an afternoon to encourage mammals, birds, reptiles and insects to populate the places you love.

Most of us have brush from fallen branches, particularly in the springtime after snow and ice have broken them loose from the trees. Usually that material are cut and bundled so it can be recycled or composted. Rather than cutting and bundling, you can pile the material and keep adding to it every year to create a wildlife habitat.

Start by putting large branches or logs at the base of the pile. Lay branches in alternating directions so there are lots of spaces for critters to hide. Good information on construction and design is available from the University of Maryland Extension website.  

If you construct your brush pile in the spring, it may immediately become a home to rabbits or woodchucks. Even if you do not see the animals directly, you can watch for signs of their activity. There might be chewed plants, areas that have been dug out or animal droppings (also known as “scat”). A guide to scat is available from the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management.

Winter is also a good time to check out your brush pile. After a freshly fallen snow, take advantage of the great opportunity to learn about the population of your pile. You can try to see how many different sets of tracks are there in the snow. You can also look at scat to get an idea of the population of critters in your backyard. A good track identification guide is available from the Tahoma School District.

More information from Michigan State University Extension can be found in the “School Yard Habitat for People and Wildlife” bulletin and is available online.  

For information on how to build a rock pile to encourage wildlife in your yard, see the article “Habitat in the backyard – Part 2: Rock On!"

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