CAMERON, W.Va. -- If you've ever spooked a cottontail in an old field, you probably watched it zig and zag, and then suddenly seem to disappear into thin air. More likely it dashed into the safety of a brush pile.
When cabin fever strikes next month, get outside on a mild winter day and build a brush pile for wildlife. It's easy, and it provides valuable habitat to a variety of wildlife including everything from mice and chipmunks to snakes, skunks, and many songbirds.
The best place to build a brush pile is on the edge of a wooded area. And they should be placed as far away from houses as possible because some of the species attracted to brush piles can be backyard pests.
Begin a brush pile by laying a foundation of large rocks, concrete blocks, old tires, plastic pipes of various diameters, and/or pieces of downspouts to provide refuge for a variety of species. This base layer elevates the first course of logs above the ground so they rot more slowly. It also creates a maze of escape lanes for a variety of small mammals.
The next step is to place two or three alternating layers of logs or old fence posts, four to six inches in diameter, perpendicular to each other.
Now the foundation is ready for the brush, which can include small trees, broken branches, and at this time of year, used Christmas trees. Most people are happy to donate used Christmas trees to wildlife projects. If you use several conifers, tie them together so they don't scatter in the wind.
Though a backyard brush pile might measure 8 feet in diameter and 4 to 5 feet high, if you live in a rural area, more and bigger brush piles are better and will attract more wildlife. On state wildlife management areas, for example, brush piles can stand 10 to 12 feet high and be 20 to 30 feet long.