ACES Publications

PubID: ANR-0785
Title: Building Shelter For Wildlife
Pages:     Balance: 0
ANR-785 Building Shelter For Wildlife

ANR-785, Reprinted November 1996. Adapted from an article entitled "Build your own wildlife shelters" by Ken Olenderski, published in Pennsylvania Wildlife, 1983. Approved for Extension use by H. Lee Stribling, Extension Wildlife Scientist, Associate Professor, Zoology and Wildlife Science, Auburn University.

Building Shelter For Wildlife

Do you want to attract wildlife to your home or property? It's easy, if you provide everything a wild animal needs to survive. What do animals need? They need food, water, and cover. Whether in your backyard or on a sizable acreage, these three requirements for life must be provided to attract and hold wildlife If one is missing, an animal will not be able to take up residence on your property. Of the three, cover is the one that is most often overlooked.


Animals need cover to escape from predators or bad weather and for breeding. Cover can be provided by plantings or by allowing areas to grow into brush. It can also be provided by erecting nesting boxes or platforms.

Another way to provide cover is to construct wildlife shelters out of logs, cut brush, rocks, and many other materials. Many materials that you might send to the landfill can be recycled into a wildlife shelter. Wee limbs, logs, rocks, and old drain tiles can all make excellent wildlife shelters.

Animals that might use your shelters include cottontail rabbits, chipmunks, mice, lizards, snakes, and an assortment of small birds.

Building A Brush Pile

Perhaps the easiest wildlife shelter to build is a brush pile. Research has shown that brush piles work best if they are properly constructed. Build brush piles in two parts. The first part is a foundation, which allows easy access for animals to enter the shelter. The second part is the brush, which covers the foundation. Brush piles should be 6 to 10 feet across and 2 to 4 feet high.


When constructing the foundation, use the largest materials. Provide entrance spaces 6 to 12 inches wide for easy access. To make a good foundation, place four logs (6 to 10 inches in diameter) parallel to each other about 1 foot apart. Place four more logs on top, perpendicular to the ones on the ground. You could substitute large, flat rocks for the second layer of logs if you want.

You could also make three or four rock piles about 6 to 12 inches apart. Each rock pile should be about 10 inches high and 12 inches across. Arrange the piles so that they make a triangle if three piles are used or a plus sign if four are used.

Other things can also be used to build foundations. For example, you can lean two or three logs (6 to 10 inches in diameter) against a stump. Use your imagination and the materials you have on hand. The main thing to keep in mind is that the foundation should keep small "tunnels" open under the pile of brush.

Brush Covering

Cover the brush pile foundation with 12 to 18 inches of loose brush. Tree branches, saplings, and small limbs all work well. You should add to the brush pile as new brushy material is available. The older brush will settle as it decays, and new cover must be added as time passes.

Living Shelters

If constructed of living materials, your brush shelter will last much longer. Living shelters provide not just cover, but food as well.

To make a living brush pile, find several (three to five) small hardwood saplings (2 to 8 inches in diameter) located close together. Cut each tree halfway through the trunk about 12 inches above the ground. Place the cuts on the outside of the tree, away from the other trees in the group. Since the tree is not cut all the way through, there will be enough living material under the bark {cambium layer} to keep the tree alive. Push the tree over towards the other trees in the group so it rests on the ground or on top of the other half-cut trees.

Living brush piles made from hardwoods supply buds, twigs, leaves, and seeds for animals to eat as well as cover and protection. Fertilizer can be applied to the living brush pile to encourage other plant growth and will also help the half-cut trees stay alive. In March or April, scatter about 4 cups of 13-13-13 fertilizer on each brush pile.

Where To Put Brush Piles

It is best to place brush piles near wildlife feeding areas. Along backyard or field edges and scattered around large wooded or open areas are good places. Try to make at least two piles per acre. Several medium-size piles scattered around are better than one big one. Try to keep brush piles away from living areas or children's play areas since snakes may frequent them.

So the next time you have some tree limbs or brush that you collect around the yard, don't send it to the landfill -- try building a brushpile for wildlife. Besides decreasing the amount of trash sent to landfills, you will be rewarded by attracting more wildlife to your yard.

For more information, call your county Extension office. Look in your telephone directory under your county's name to find the number.

For more information, contact your county Extension office. Visit or look in your telephone directory under your county's name to find contact information.

Published by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M University and Auburn University), an equal opportunity educator and employer.

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