Ratsnakes and brush piles: Intended and unintended consequences of improving habitat for wildlife?

Jinelle H. Sperry, Patrick J Weatherhead

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Brush pile creation is a common habitat management method used to attract wildlife. However, there is a paucity of data regarding effectiveness of brush pile creation and the indirect effects of brush piles on multi-species interactions. Here we document use of man-made brush piles by Texas ratsnakes (Elaphe obsoleta), examine mechanisms behind that use, and present results of a pilot study comparing avian nest success in areas with and without brush piles to determine if predator attraction to brush piles negatively affects the surrounding bird community. Radio-tracked snakes were found in brush piles 10 of the time, despite brush piles comprising less than 0.2 of the habitat by area. More abundant small mammals and more moderate temperatures in brush piles than in surrounding habitats could explain snakes' attraction to brush piles. Nest success of birds was similar in areas with and without brush piles in the year following brush pile creation. Because it may take substantially longer than 1 y for snake use to reach its maximum, however, it is premature to conclude that brush piles do not affect birds nesting in adjacent habitat. Given the apparent prevalence of brush pile creation, and the demonstrated preference of brush piles by ratsnakes, further research to document the consequences of brush pile creation is warranted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)311-317
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Midland Naturalist
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


Dive into the research topics of 'Ratsnakes and brush piles: Intended and unintended consequences of improving habitat for wildlife?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this