Hanging out in the backyard watching the local wildlife is one of the ultimate simple pleasures of spring. No matter where you live - rural, suburban, even urban areas are host to a bewildering array of birds, and providing them shelter is one of the best ways to ensure they set up camp in your yard.
Some of the most common and most popular species of birds are called "cavity-nesters", meaning they seek out protective, hollowed-out spaces to make their nests. Owls, wrens, woodpeckers, martins and chickadees take advantage of tree hollows, open eaves and other similar shelters, but if you provide perfect housing for them, they will move right in - and since you're the landlord, you can locate these houses in convenient viewing areas. Gourds make excellent birdhouses because they provide sturdy shelter that stands up to the elements over time. In fact, Native Americans have used gourds to attract birds for centuries. With a spare afternoon, you can turn a $5 gourd into some little bird family's dream home.
How to Make a Gourd Birdhouse
For centuries, dried gourds have been a popular medium for art and crafts. They are among the natural options available for making birdhouses that can attract a variety of birds, especially purple martins. Even though, ready-made gourd birdhouses are available in the market, making one by yourself can be really interesting.
Choose a Suitable Gourd
The first and foremost step is to get a dried gourd, which is suitable for this purpose. You cannot use any gourd for making a birdhouse. An ideal dried gourd (for this purpose) should have a minimum size and a desired shape. Choose one with nice, thick walls, and a "belly" at least nine inches across. Superficial scars and discoloration doesn't matter, because you will paint the gourd.
If you grow gourds in your garden, choose the right one and dry it thoroughly, before proceeding further. In case you want to grow gourds, get some seeds, preferably those of Mexican bottle gourds, which are best suited for this purpose. Nowadays birdhouse gourd seeds are available in the market and you don't have to search for specific gourd seeds. Plant them in spring, after the frost, and make sure the plants have enough space to grow. Once the mature fruits turn tan, harvest them with stems attached.
If you grow gourds, then you can leave the mature fruits on the vine itself, for drying. Do not make any cuts or scrapes on their skin. Once they get dry, the gourds will become lightweight. They will make a rattling sound, as the dry seeds move inside. Such dried gourds emit a hollow sound, when tapped. Another method is to pick the mature gourds from the plant and hang them in a dry, well-ventilated room, after cleaning the surfaces with a mild bleaching solution. Make sure that the gourds have at least two to three inches of stem attached. It may take some weeks to months for the gourds to get dry.
After making sure that the gourds are dry, clean them with a mild bleach solution, so as to remove mold. You may also scrub (gently) the surfaces with a metal pot scrubber, using soap water. This removes any external debris that could interfere with paint adherence. If the scrubbing doesn't seem sufficient, try sanding with a medium sanding sponge - wear a mask, because the resulting dust could irritate your lungs. Some people actually pressure wash the gourds, but this may be a bit of overkill if you're only doing a single gourd. Once you finish cleaning, dry the gourd.
Making Gourd Birdhouse
- The first step is to drill the entrance hole for the birdhouse. Use a pencil to draw a line around the fattest part of the belly of the dried gourd. The bottom of your entrance hole should rest on this line.
- Different birds require holes of different sizes, so check your local Audubon website to find the proper dimensions for your favorite species.
- Of course, if you aren't very particular about the species, cut an opening of an appropriate size for the gourd - a three-inch circumference is usually adequate for most of the smaller species.
- No matter what size hole you use, it will be better to make a crescent-shaped one (half-circle shape) to prevent squirrels and other predators from getting in.
- For purple martins, the average belly size of the gourd must be around ten inches and the hole must be 2½ inches.
- For bluebirds, it is eight inches and 1½ inches respectively. For hairy woodpeckers, a 12-inch gourd with a hole of around two inches will be sufficient.
- The distance of the birdhouse from the ground is also taken into consideration. In case of purple martins and hairy woodpeckers, it is around 12 to 20 inches.
- So you have to do some research regarding the size of the gourd, the size and shape of the hole and placement of the birdhouse.
- Once you decide the size and shape of the entrance, drill a hole slightly above the center of the gourd's belly. After cutting the hole, you have to remove the dried seeds and pulp inside the gourd.
- Make sure to wear a dust mask, while drilling the hole and removing the dried stuff inside. Scrape out the whole thing inside the gourd.
- On the exact opposite side of the entrance hole (on the other side of the gourd), cut a four-inch hole about 1½ inches above the middle line. This is the hole you will use to clean out the house between bird families. Keep the plug you cut out, because it will remain in place while the gourd is in use.
- You have to make five to six small holes on the bottom of the gourd for drainage purposes. Now, attach an eye screw on the top of the gourd, after removing the stem. This is for hanging the birdhouse.
- You may also drill two holes on opposite sides of the gourd's horn and thread wire through these holes for hanging the birdhouse.
- Fill a bucket with a 20 percent copper sulfate solution and soak your gourd for about 20 minutes. Be sure the entire gourd (including the access plug) is fully submerged - you may need to weigh it down.
- Remove the gourd and allow to air-dry in the sun until completely dry. Do not rinse off the copper sulfate - it won't hurt the birds or interfere with the finish, and rinsing it off will allow mold and fungus to grow (which can hurt the birds).
- Once dry, you may either go for a carved gourd birdhouse by making some carvings on the surface or you may paint some designs.
- However, it will be better to paint the exterior of the birdhouse with an oil-based primer, followed by enamel paint, so as to protect it from weather.
- Most birds are more attracted to white, because it reflects light and keeps the inside cooler during the summer, but feel free to use any pastel color and even paint decorations.
- You may also go for clear polyurethane coatings (two to three coatings), to get a more natural look.
- String floral wire through the top holes on the gourd and hang about 10-20 feet from the ground, with the opening facing away from the tree and towards open space.
Your gourd birdhouse is ready. Now, just sit back and watch for the winged neighbors!