Connecticut Audbon Society


Trail to Earth Day #14: Water and branches

A female Scarlet Tanager perched on the side of the water feature at the Milford Point Coastal Center. Photo by Stefan Martin.

The Trail to Earth Day will run through April 22.

April 17, 2020 — Birds need water and a place to take cover. Those are two easy things you can help them with in your yard.

For water, give them a bath — a bird bath. For cover, build a brush pile. Nothing could be less high-tech.

Edwin Way Teale, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author who lived at Trail Wood in Hampton, set the standard for brush piles.

He stacked enough sticks and branches to form a kind of wooden igloo, fitted it with a couple of chestnut planks for a desk and seat, and worked there in the fine weather, accompanied by chickadees and blue jays.

Folks called it his branch office. A nickname like that tends to stick.

(Take a look at this page on Google to see what it was like.)

But you don’t need to go that far. Just follow these simple, step by step instructions:

  1. Make a pile of sticks.
  2. That’s all.

Insects and all kinds of other invertebrates will live there. Small mammals will hide there. Songbirds will visit to eat the insects and hide from the Sharp-shinned Hawks. It’s far superior than running your branches through a wood chipper — quieter, less polluting, and more useful. Although remember to leave some sticks and branches on the ground in the woods too.

Birds do not live by insects alone however. Frequently there must also be water.

You can build what we Audubon experts creatively call a “water feature.” Seriously. We can’t think of anything better to call it.

But we also can’t think of a better thing for your property. One of our staff naturalists, Stefan Martin, built one last year at the Milford Point Coastal Center, where salt water is abundant but fresh water is at a premium, and the birds absolutely love it. 

Stefan in fact says it was all he had hoped for, and it has the added benefit of being “an amazing spot for bird photography.” The female Scarlet Tanager, above, is perched on its side.

Check out this page from the Penn State Extension for great information and plans.

If you don’t want to go that far, a regular bird bath is a great benefit to birds too. — Tom Andersen

“I Talk to the Trees,” Chet Baker. A late-night song.






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