– I added another wildlife attractant to my property last week. I constructed a woodland brush pile.

I own 70 acres of land near Brainerd and for more than two decades I have used brush piles, among numerous other projects, to attract a variety of wildlife. Brush shelters are easy to build and can remain useful to wildlife for 10 or 15 years — longer if the piles are maintained now and then.

Birds and mammals use my brush piles as shelter all year. During winter, cottontail rabbits escape the cold and predators by crawling under the protective covering. On cold winter days ruffed grouse cuddle up on the downwind, sunny side of the pile to conserve precious body heat. Other winter birds do the same.

I often see woodchucks going in and out in summer. I also observe chipmunks, squirrels and mice. In spring, birds such as brown thrashers and catbirds build their nests within the tangle of branches.

Here is how I create the shelters:

Last winter I implemented a timber stand improvement on about 2 acres. The area was devoid of underbrush because mature trees shaded out any young plants trying to grow. I used a chain saw to remove many of the shade trees, but not all of them.

My winter work left the area a mess of downed trees and branches. I had planned ahead to build two brush piles, so I purposely cut several of the tree trunks into 8-foot lengths. Those logs would serve as the pile foundation.

Then, last week, I began work on the first brush piles. I started by laying four larger logs parallel to each other about a foot apart. On top of those I added another layer of logs in the opposite direction, again spaced about a foot apart. I proceeded to pile on debris, gradually using smaller logs and branches as my pile grew. Finally, I topped off my structure with a few medium sized logs which will help condense the pile into a thicker hideout.

The brush pile will flatten a bit. Then, I pile on more debris. I can use leaf litter and other plant material, even rocks. In fact building a rock pile at the base of brush piles will attract reptiles and amphibians. Finding rocks on my land is not a problem.

It’s important to space the bottom layers of logs apart to leave gaps for rabbits and other critters to scamper in and out.

Two decades ago when I constructed my first brush pile I was worried it would become home to raccoons and skunks, but that hasn’t happened.

My current brush pile looks a bit out of place. But as the forest around it regenerates, the pile will provide a needed shelter. As time passes, native trees and shrubs, even wildflowers will grow around it.

All the better to attract inhabitants.


Bill Marchel is an outdoors writer and photographer. He lives near Brainerd. Reach him at bill@billmarchel.com.