Brush Pile Wilderness

Eyesores to those with manicured yards, brush piles offer a miniature ecosystem for those of us interested in nature study. These mounds of decaying vegetation harbor a diverse population of insects, spiders, worms, caterpillars and other invertebrates, a wealth of plant fruits and seeds and a variable mix of fungi. In turn, these life forms attract wrens, sparrows, thrashers, towhees, mourning doves, field mice, shrews, toads and snakes which, themselves, are potential prey for fox, coyotes, hawks and owls.

Beyond their role in residential food chains, brush piles offer nesting sites for a variety of birds and small mammals and provide shelter for many creatures during the harsh winter months. Indeed, the naturalist will find a changing population of wildlife throughout the seasons as summer residents (house wrens, insects, toads, snakes) give way to winter sparrows, juncos and small mammals during the colder months; winter is also a good time to look for insect pupae, potential snacks for year-round residents such as Carolina wrens, chickadees and field mice.

Enamored with scenic landscapes and magnificent parklands, we often overlook the diversity and drama in our own backyards. One could truly spend a lifetime studying the biologic processes and varied life forms of a typical brush pile. Its simple structure and convenient access should not detract from its value as a lab of natural science.