Gourds make great birdhouses for several varieties of birds; bluebirds, wrens, woodpeckers, flycatchers, titmice, screech owls (think large gourds), kestrels, nuthatches and many more.Most commonly in the east (east of theRocky mountains), gourds are used for attracting purple martins.Purple martins love mosquitoes and therefore homeowners love the purple martin.
For example, the house wren needs a 1-inch entrance hole in a gourd 5 to 6 inches in diameter and prefer gourds hung in a shady area close to brush.
Dried and cured hard-shell gourds can be as tough as wooden birdhouses bought at the store.And they will last 15-20 years if properly preserved, painted and cared for each season
Items needed to make your own birdhouse:
- One hard-shell birdhouse gourd. (If your goal is to attract martins, you will need to hang 4 to 6 minimum)
- Fine steel wool and sand paper
- Wood preservative
- Primer (oil-based)
- Paint (white, oil-based) (water based paints will not stay on the gourd)
- Coated wire or string (24 in. to hang birdhouse)
- Face mask and Gloves
There are many good articles on the internet and in gardening magazines about growing harvesting and drying gourds.I will not cover that information in this article.Also, many gardeners sell their gourds on e-bay or you can even buy them at craft stores if you do not want to invest the time, or do not have the space to grow your own.
To check if the gourd you’ve purchased or dried is ready, give it a good shake; if the seeds rattle, you can begin making a birdhouse (or decide to decorate a few for children’s musical toys).
You will need to soak the gourd for 10-15 minutes in hot soapy water, then you will be able to scrape it with a dull knife (a butter knife works great) to remove the outer skin and any mold.Scrub the gourd in clean water with fine steel wool. Then rinse it well and allow it to thoroughly dry again.
To find the location of the entrance hole, hold the gourd by its stem with your index finger and thumb and let it hang. Mark a center point along the outermost part of the curve so the hole faces straight out.You do not want the entrance to face up towards the sky or down towards the ground.
For purple martins the hole should measure 2-1/8 inches and it can be easily and quickly drilled with the proper-size hole saw as pictured above.Hole saws can be purchased at your local hardware store in a variety of sizes.You should wear a face mask and even eye protection while drilling the entrance and drainage holes.
Make 6 or 7 (depending upon size of your gourd) drainage holes in the bottom of the gourd about 2 inches apart using a small drill bit.Be careful, you do not want to crack the bottom of your gourd.Too many holes can make the gourd weak and too little will not allow proper drainage.With the same bit, you can drill holes about 2 inches from the top of the gourd's neck for hanging and ventilation.One set should be drilled perpendicular to the entrance hole and the other in line with it.This will allow you to decide which way to hang the birdhouse gourd later.
All of the seeds and membrane will need to be removed through the entrance hole with a spoon, screwdriver, stick or a wire coat hanger (or a combination of these tools).If it is difficult to get all the material out try soaking the gourd in water for several hours to make it soft.The inside does not have to be completely clean but make sure you let it dry out again completely before you start to preserve and paint it.
Once dry, dip the gourd in a wood preservative for10-15 minutes, weigh it down inside a container filled with wood preservative with a brick. Then remove the gourd and hang it up to dry for several days.The excess wood preservative should drain out the bottom, so keep something under it until it is empty.Make sure the drainage holes do not get clogged.Wear rubber gloves while handling the gourd and preservative until it is dry.Sand the gourd smooth, wipe clean and paint with an oil-based primer. Then allow it to dry completely.Paint the gourd house with white exterior enamel paint with a nylon brush. Apply two coats. Once again be careful not to clog drainage holes.Your gourd will need to be retreated and repainted every few years.
Once your gourd is dry you can hang it from the wire or string. Thread the wire through two of the holes directly across from each other and hang it from a support line. It can be hung below another martin house or on a specially made gourd rack. Purple martin gourds will need to be able to swing. This makes it less attractive to nest competitors, such as starlings.The rack or line needs to be 10 to 15 feet high, with the entrance hole facing towards an open area.
In the late fall or early winter, after the martins or birds leave for their winter homes, take the gourd house down and clean it out. Break the nests with the handle of a spoon or stick and shake out the contents.Rinse the gourd well and let it dry.Then it can be stored until early spring (as early as February in the south east) in a cool dry place protected from small rodents.