Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Brush Piles Are For the Birds


In the spring and summer, we prune a lot of our trees and shrubs and throw the brush in a pile. It can be unsightly, but I know wildlife, such as birds and rabbits, use brush piles for shelter. Last year, we had a hurricane and some severe tropical storms that felled some trees and scattered branches around the yard. All of this went in the brush pile. This winter I see the Dark-eyed Juncos cavorting on and around this brush pile. In the photo below the brush pile is just beyond these young trees below the arrow.




The brush pile from another angle...


There are many cubbyholes and hiding places within this brush pile for small birds and other animals to find shelter from bad weather or predators.


It is easy to feel as if the brush pile needs to be cleared away or mulched down. We usually do not break down these piles--letting nature take its course. However, we do, from time to time, flatten them out a bit so as not to alter our view. If I see a lot of activity near and around a brush pile, I will leave it alone. Branches and debris I may need for the compost pile can be found elsewhere.


Many fledgling birds use brush piles to test their wings.


How to Build a Brush Pile

1. Layer tree branches, shrub cuttings, and garden debris in a pile. A freeform grid pattern adds stability.
2. Christmas evergreen trees are a great addition to the brush pile, offering camouflage and shelter.
3. Any size of pile will shelter birds and other wildlife, but bigger is better, if possible.
4. If you locate the brush pile near your vegetable garden or flower garden, the birds will be close enough to assist in ridding your garden of insect pests.
5. Plant climbing annuals, such as morning glories or cypress vine, to camouflage your brush pile.

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Remember the Great Backyard Bird Count February 17 - 20. On the site, there is an instructional video and a tally sheet for birds that may be seen in your area at this time of year. This bird count is only for residents of the USA and Canada.


The Garden Bird Survey in Ireland took place last November. The Big Garden Birdwatch in Great Britain and the Hour for Winter Birds in Germany took place at the end of January.

© copyright 2012 Michelle A. Potter

84 comments:

  1. I agree. Brush piles are good if you have the space to put them. My husband doesn't agree with me though. he would like to get ride of them. I figure they make compost int he end. Love your images.

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    1. We are lucky enough to have woods beyond our property that allows us to build lots of brush piles...and they blend into the forest. We have been tempted a time or two to clear them away because, for some reason, we have this idea that everything must be neat. Thank goodness, we never act on it.

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  2. Is that a bluebird at your feeder? We get them occasionally checking out holes in dead tree limbs but never eating seeds at our feeders. Do you put out something special for them?

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    1. Yes...he is flapping his wings to maintain balance. The feeder is filled with sunflower seed hearts. They come once in a while to the feeders, but they usually come in flocks. This one stayed behind for a few minutes.

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  3. This is a really important idea. Until I read your post I'd never heard the term. I have many books about wildlife gardening, and none of them use the term, or even refer to such an idea.

    I do still have several brush piles myself, although I've never called them by that name, simply because it's the easiest way to dispose of small branches and shruby material. And at the same time it provides a wonderful habitat for all kinds of birds, mammals and insects.

    'Brush pile' ought to be included along with 'pond, log pile, and long grass' as an essential component of any wildlife friendly garden.

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    1. I had read about brush piles somewhere a few years ago, but it wasn't until I actually saw the birds 'using' them that I saw the benefit. And I have seen rabbits tuck themselves inside these brush piles as well. I agree, Robert, these should be discussed more and people should be encouraged to build them or leave them...to the birds.

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  4. I usually mulch most of my garden debris but there is still always some things left in a pile for the wildlife, natures way of making everything useful. Christina

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    1. Nature's way is always the best. When I see wildlife around these brush piles, they actually become more beautiful.

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  5. Great post and information! Definitely an essential element in wildlife gardening. I have brush piles around my gardens which many birds, rabbits, chipmunks and snakes use. Happy counting!

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    1. They are useful for many of the animals in the wild. I am looking forward to seeing and hearing those chipmunks come spring.

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  6. I love the idea of growing an annual vine to hide a brush pile. I have a new brush pile in the garden now that would benefit from a bit of camouflage once the weather turns warm.

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    1. It seems a brush pile is a natural trellis that these plants could easily climb. Once it is filled with climbing plants, it would be unrecognizable.

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  7. Brush piles are all over at the farm and some are as tall as a house. I find them the most interesting places for finding wildlife. Around Christmas, I was shooting at the farm and out popped a coyote. He had made a home in one of the large piles. What a shock for me, so much so, I could not even get a picture.

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    1. I would be shocked as well! I have not seen a coyote around here, but I know people who have seen them in our region. Not too far from this brush pile, there is a fox den. A few years ago, I saw a mother fox raise her kits. They were so adorable and playful.

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  8. Like Debbie, I like your suggestion to grow an annual vine over the brush pile. Too many people forget the important shelter brush piles offer birds and other small animals, so your post is a great reminder.

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    1. Thanks, Joene. I think the Dark-eyed Juncos must roost in that brush pile, because I see a lot of them around there. It is fun to see them weave themselves in and out of the cubbyholes.

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  9. Great post! I don't have room for such a nice pile :( but one of the pergolas is covered by three vines, nice and thick, and I know the birds love it :)

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    1. I can imagine the birds love your thick vines. None of my vines are mature enough to be that thick, yet, but I look forward to when they are.

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  10. We had a big brushpile until last fall when Husband decided it was time to do some cleanup around the farm. Even though it looked neater out back after that, I missed seeing the birds flocking there every day. You're so right--they do love shelters like these. Is that a bluebird at your feeder?--Lovely!

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    1. Yes, it is a bluebird flapping his wings to maintain his balance. That feeder is made for smaller birds, but the bluebirds come visit from time to time.

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  11. These birds are beautiful. I didn't know about brush pile but thanks to your info, now I know that it is very useful. Even post season Christmas trees can be put to good use.

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    1. Thanks, Autumn Belle. I love watching the birds scatter around the pile. It is hard not to appreciate it.

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  12. I love the close-ups of the birds. What may seem like a mess or just a pile of twigs is actually helping nature. Love it!

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    1. When this particular pile got very large, we were concerned that it may be too big and our HOA would find fault with it. However, over time it reduced in size. And now it is the perfect size to be of service to wildlife and not too unsightly.

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  13. I love the idea of consciously creating wildlife homes with brush. In my area, most people put their branches, trimmings, and leaves out on the curb, and large trucks drive around to haul it away. I always think it is such a waste of fuel and resources, and such a shame to continually remove that organic matter from the land! Your photos of birds are so cute.

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    1. I feel the same. It is so easy to bring all that debris back to the soil or make a small bird shelter.

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  14. Thanks for stopping by Michelle. Love your brush pile. Wish I could do one, but with a small yard, I can't waste space. :) I am loving all the birds you have. I am hoping that in a few years I'll see more as my flowering shrubs all grow up. Your photos of yours are really beautiful.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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    1. Hi Cher. I used to live in a townhome with a very small backyard. It can be challenging to just have a small garden at all.

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  15. We have a brush pile in our garden, purely by accident. Lots of dead branches following two severe winters. Didn't realise the birds liked them so much. No rush to dispose of them now then. Result.

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    1. The birds don't seem to be picky about it. They are easy to please.

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  16. I've been building a brush pile this year from all my trimmings, and feeling bad about how it looks. Now I'll feel good about it! And thanks for the tip about putting an annual vine to bloom through it! Beautiful bird pictures.

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    1. Thanks, Holley. I have not tried growing a vine on the pile because my piles are at the edge of the woods, but I can imagine that it would look very nice.

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  17. We have a few brush piles in the woodland and at the back of shady borders, this was where we found our first Dormouse hibernating nest,they are fantastic for the wildlife. Never thought of covering them with an annual climber, thanks for that tip! We took part in our own Great British bird watch in January, a very happy hour with woodpeckers, nuthatches and all the usual garden birds.

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    1. I am looking forward to sitting outside and counting. I see so many birds at the feeders, so I am hoping it will be a fruitful time.

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  18. Brush piles are a great and ecological idea, but you need to have a big garden for them... and I don't. :(
    Ciao!

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    1. Dona, it is easier to have a brush pile in a larger garden. Not long ago, I lived in a townhome, a small home with a very small backyard. I could not have had a brush pile either. I did have a wooded area behind the yard which was very nice.

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  19. This is a great "how-to" post for creating a safe-haven for wildlife. I love the idea of flowering vines, like morning glories, growing on them.

    We also live near woods, so now I'll be on the lookout for a cool place to create this brush pile. We have some natural ones in the woods, but I'll want to strategically place mine and "sculpt" it. :)

    I love the photo of the bulging-eyed fledgling - ugly cute. :D

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    1. There are a lot of naturally-occurring ones in our wooded area as well. There always seems to be a lot of birds scampering around them.

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  20. p.s.

    I'll put a link to this post out on my blog Facebook page. I'm always looking for posts my readers will find beneficial and interesting.

    Thanks!

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    1. Thanks, Holly. That is such a great idea...I hope your readers enjoy it.

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  21. I am lucky enough to have plenty of room to make brush piles in out of the way places for all the wildlife to enjoy. Standing dead trees are also a hit.

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    1. There are a few standing dead trees in the woods beyond our property. I think an opossum family lives in one of them.

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  22. Good to know others do this, too. The birds and little critters do seem to like the nooks and crannies. We have a few brush piles in our back woods. Great shots of your feathered friends!

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    1. It is loads of fun to watch the birds hop around the nooks and crannies. They seem so at home there, so content.

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  23. Oh yes, we have brush piles in our garden and there birds and a hedgehog feel at home. This morning I heard a nightingale singing there-spring is near!

    Your pictures are great! I love them all.

    Jo

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    1. We don't have hedgehogs here...they seem so interesting and cute. And I would love to hear that nightingale...another creature we do not have here.

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  24. I love this idea, particularly growing annual climbers over it to disguise the piles. I hope I end up with a garden large enough to do this, at the moment I just have two small log piles in the corner of the garden by the compose bins.

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    1. At my townhouse years ago, I could not fit anything like a brush pile. It is hard to do a lot when the yard is small. The log piles sound like great areas for wildlife.

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  25. We started clearing out our woodland and have quite a pile. I noticed our winter birds flying in and out. A brush pile is an important part of a Natural Habitat garden. Thanks for the reminder.

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    1. When we have cleared out areas, it always leaves us with a lot of debris for the pile. Yesterday, I saw a rabbit come out of the pile...seems to be a haven for many animals.

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  26. I think everbody should do this. Even in our forest nothing is cleaned up. Even when there is a storm and a tree is falling down they let nature do his work. And it's beautiful how a tree like this lookes like after a couple of years. Brush pile's are great.
    Have a lovely weekend
    Marijke

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    1. I love old trees, and the trees on the forest floor. The wood weathers so beautifully with shades of beige and gray that are always different on each one.

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  27. Such wise advice. I remember reading once that if you garden for wildlife you have to be okay with your garden being less than perfectly manicured. I knew right then that I was the perfect candidate!

    Cindy at Rosehaven Cottage

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  28. This is a brilliant idea for a post, Michelle. I was exposed to the value of brush piles as a child; my parents have many acres of woods on their property. We could watch birds using the piles but also rabbits, squirrels and raccoons. Deer use large brush piles of pine as winter shelter, too. You are fortunate to have woodlands nearby.

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    1. I am very glad we have the woodlands nearby for so many reasons. You were fortunate to have had parents that were wise to these things.

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  29. Also, Michelle; I curated your post for my new magazine "Gardens Inspired - The Magazine" [http://www.scoop.it/t/gardens-inspired]; it is linked-back to The Sage Butterfly.

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    1. Thank you, Debra. What a great idea to share all the great info you find!

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  30. You have made me feel much better about the large brush pile on the far edge of my woodland garden. Though I know it is good for wildlife, lately I have been thinking of it as an eyesore. Thanks for reminding me of nature's view point!

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    1. I go through those stages as well. If we lived out in the country, I might not have those moments, but living in a community trains my eye to a neater view. I am glad I mostly ignore it.

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  31. Thank you for visiting my blog and giving me a very nice comment. I appreciate your wok on sustainable wildlife. best, Lula

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    1. Thanks, Lula. I have always loved wildlife and try to do as much as I can. They bring me so much joy...

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  32. Well unsightly it may be, but so worthwhile. Cubbyhole, fantastic! haven't heard that one for years.

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    1. They do so enjoy those cubbyholes. I tried to photograph in them, but it is way too dark.

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  33. This is a wonderful idea. Our property is lacking in trees and I noticed this summer a number of dead shrubs we had cut down and piled up were being used by birds as a spot to sit in lieu of live trees. Of course, it helped that the brush pile was close to the sunflowers where they were helping themselves to a meal!

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    1. That sounds perfect! I can imagine that they were in bird heaven--having their shelter along with food.

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  34. We have a lot of debris lying about at this time of year. The wildlife benefit from being a bit untidy. We took part in the Big Garden Birdwatch. We've noticed a fall in the numbers of certain birds in the past few years. It will be interesting to see what the survey comes up with.

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    1. Where I used to live, it was rare to see an Eastern bluebird. Here, just a little south, there are many. It will be interesting to see what the numbers show.

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  35. There's a small area in the corner of our garden, behind the utility boxes, where I've taken to tossing branches and things too large to go in the compost. I should probably organize it a bit better and make a brush pile out of it. Great idea.

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    1. The birds and other wildlife probably like it anyway. They don't seem to be too picky as nature lets things fall as they fall...

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  36. We have areas of very large wild blackberry bushes, that act as brush piles - the Towhees love them! Our piles of logs to be split and stacked are inhabited by red squirrels who hide from the owls. So this is the silver lining of work in progress!

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    1. Neat! I can see how they find shelter among these. They use what nature and we give them.

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  37. I wish I had room for a brush pile. :( I'm glad you created a post about this idea. There is no waste in nature. What we think is a mess, the birds regard as safety.

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    1. I did not have room for one in my small yard when I lived in a townhome. I was lucky to have woods behind the house where there were plenty of brush piles...and where I could make brush piles.

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  38. This is such a wonderful concept. Staying in a apartment complex, these ideas look so tempting for me. A wonderful way to have birds around.

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    1. It is hard in an apartment complex. We can only work with what we have.

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  39. Very creative idea on brush pile! cute birds! I like your last photo!

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    1. Thanks, Malar. I hope the bird count shows good populations of birds.

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  40. This is excellent - we do exactly the same here in Brittany - infact I was going to be posting about this just shortly! We have lots of Hazels in our woodland area and last autumn had some help with coppicing some of the older ones - I've put piles of brushwood in various spots around the wooded area and the birds love it as well as hedgehogs I'm hoping! Take care Miranda

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    1. I am sure they do. I see so much activity around the ones we have created. And I probably miss a lot that goes on inside of them.

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  41. I think it's a lovely idea in gardens where there is no growing brush for the little creatures, before I had the shredder I used to pile the branches up but my problen is (as always) the rotten grass here that grows through everything, I then made one (which still exists) by putting a large piece of hardboard on the ground first,
    in my garden I have 2 areas with natrual moorland heather and lots of birds live and nest in it, the rabbits burrow through it plus lots of other smaller creatures so I intend leaving most of these 2 areas as they are,
    when I was collecting kindling for the fire from one pile once I stop when I saw a mother blackbird on her nest near the bottom of the pile, when the chicks had fledged and the family gone I carefully removed twigs and branches to see the empty ness, Michelle they had collected moss the firm green type and made a moss roof over the nest to keep the rain out, I was entranced, Frances

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    1. That is amazing, Frances. Wow...I would have been as entranced as you. They are such amazing creatures. When I look at the nests they make, I am in awe at how they make such structures. They seem indestructible, but, of course, they are not.

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