One of the nicest gifts you can give the birds in your yard won’t cost you a dime. It’s a brush pile. While we might like to think that birds can eat safely at our backyard feeders, the birds we feed are in turn are often eaten by predators who come to the feeders to find them. Providing cover nearby gives birds a quick place to flee when a hawk soars through the feeder area or a neighborhood cat decides to come and bird watch too.
A brush pile is easy to make. If you can, aim for a pile of maybe eight to ten feet wide and four or five feet high. Collect logs, branches and sticks that fall naturally from the trees in your yard or that you cut off when pruning trees and shrubs. (If you don’t have enough in your own yard, you might find that your neighbors are willing to share.) Start with small long logs if you have them or the largest branches you’ve got, laying them out with about a foot between them. (I didn’t have eight foot long logs, but did have shorter lengths that I laid end-to-end to create the length.) Cover with another layer going perpendicular over the first. Work your way up, putting smaller branches and sticks over the top. I like to stand a few branches along the edges tepee-style to screen larger openings. You want to leave gaps large enough for little birds to be able to get into but not so large that a cat could hide inside.
If you include some evergreen branches over the top of the pile, maybe from a Christmas tree or wreath or from fallen pine branches, it makes the cover a little denser and more protected inside, but don’t use things like fallen leaves or garden refuse that will mat down and fill in the openings; you want it to be honeycombed with open spaces. The pile will settle over time, leaves will blow in, and squirrels may gnaw on and/or move around some of the branches. Just continue to add branches over time as you find them fallen in your yard.
You don’t want a predator to be able to lurk right next to a feeder, unseen. So don’t build the brush pile right next to ground bird feeders. Several feet away is good. It doesn’t have to be built in a day. Start with what you have and gradually add to it as you find new branches. I actually like the rustic look of a brush pile, but if your yard is more manicured, you might plant native vines around yours to cover it. Some communities might not allow brush piles and some neighbors might not like them in view of their windows.
Keep in mind that brush piles can become home to some birds, while other critters may decide to hang out there as well. Lots of tasty insects will make the brush pile home too. As many birds make insects a big part of their diet, you are actually expanding what you are offering to the birds and may even attract some birds who don’t otherwise come to bird feeders.
I have three brush piles in my yard. The first is over in my side yard, is pretty dense and away from most of the feeders so doesn’t get a lot of bird activity. The second is right near my main feeder area and is full of birds from sunup to sundown. When the birds eating at the feeders near the house are startled by something, many of them will flee to this nearby pile. The rest will fly to a wisteria tangle about thirty feet away where I’ve recently started a second pile. If what startled them is a person or a cat, they hunker down until the coast is clear. If it is a hawk, they use the piles and the wisteria as a kind of staging for immediate cover and then will fly for the trees at the farther parts of the yard until the hawk has left the area.
Here are a few good articles on brush piles you might find interesting:
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