Snags and brush piles are great for wildlife

by Susan Harris

“Snag”  is a  pretty funny term for something that’s so important.  It refers to partly or completely dead trees that are left standing, often with missing tips and branches.  And I’m crazy about this one in my woodland garden, especially for those mushrooms and the woodpeckers it attracts.   Noticing it over the years is like learning botany in slow-mo!

Snags
In our area snags provide wildlife benefits like these:

  • Woodpeckers feed on insects in the decomposing wood.
  • Birds, bats, squirrels and raccoons make nests in the hollow cavities and crevices of snags.  (According to the National Wildlife Federation, snags provide “critical habitat” for 1,000 species nationwide.)
  • Higher branches of snags are excellent look-outs from which wildlife (like raptors) spot potential prey.
  • The nooks and crannies of snags are also used by squirrels and other wildlife looking to store food.
  • The mosses, lichens and fungi that grow on snags help return vital nutrients to the soil.

Brush Piles
You know what else is great for wildlife?  Brush piles, though the ones I’ve built are eyesores – like most, if not all of them.  So, no photos here but you know what they look like and probably agree they’re best out of sight.

Brush piles aid wildlife in so many ways.  All sorts of birds use them and bird-lover websites are full of information about why you should build them, and exactly how.   Brush-pile owners report seeing snakes, turtles, opossums, and so on.   In fact, the Maryland Dept of Natural Resources posts this caveat to the building of wood piles:

“Though they are tremendously beneficial to wildlife, brush piles attract woodchucks, skunks, and snakes, all of which may become household pests. Because of this, you may wish to keep brush piles away from your home. Brush piles may also conceal predators. Keep them away from bird feeders located on or near the ground.”

The best how-to information I’ve found online is from the Humane Society, which clearly describes both the teepee type and the pallet type – fascinating!

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