The Gourd is the Original Southwest Bird House

Bird houses in the southwestern United States have not been built with the materials that have made homes for humans famous and unique to that region.

When one thinks of a traditional home in the southwestern United States, homes with adobe or stucco finishes immediately come to mind. However, there is another very traditional type of home in this region. Of course, I am speaking of houses made from gourds.

Most of us think of gourds as a pleasant decoration for the table at Thanksgiving. But, there are gourds that make great birdhouses!

A gourd birdhouse is one of the oldest and most original birdhouses used in the southwest. But, I must add that in my opinion, any backyard in any region would be enhanced by these attractive bird homes. This little structure is a natural bird abode and loved by many species of wild birds.

To begin you will need to determine which size and type of gourd is best for the birds that you wish to attract. For instance, a gourd that is 10 to 12 inches in diameter is suitable for Purple Martins. But if you are wanting smaller cavity-dwelling birds like Wrens then a smaller gourd is necessary.

It is best to use a gourd which has been completely vine dried. A thoroughly dried gourd will be very hard and the seeds will rattle inside when the gourd is shaken.

There are a number of options available to preserve the gourds. The easiest method is to brush on, or dunk, the gourd in a commercial water sealer safe for wildlife use. If you are not going to paint your gourd birdhouse then apply two coats of preservative. This will help your gourd last for many years.

But, if you paint your gourd use an outdoor latex paint that is safe for wildlife. Painting will ensure a long life for your bird house.

It is probably best to use a light color of paint. The light color will repel light and therefore reduce the buildup of heat in the summer, which is very crucial in hotter climates. Secondly, some birds will be more attracted to a light color and the main reason for this may be that the hole for the doorway is darker and therefore easier for them to find.

Gourd Bird House
It is also, very important to take your time and give each coating of preservative and paint, plenty of time to dry completely before applying the next coat.

Some people may be interested in adding a little artistic flair to their bird house by applying a second coat of paint with a design. Just keep in mind the important factors for using light colors. For example painting dark colored circles on your gourd may confuse the birds by making them think the circles are entrance holes. With a little planning both the wild birds and the bird watchers should be pleased with the results.

The next step in the creation of the gourd as a birdhouse requires the use of a drill. After all, you are going to need to make the gourd a very hospitable place for your feathered friends.

The following is a list of the holes you will need to drill in your gourd birdhouse.

1. Ventilation holes – 2 holes at the top ¼ inch in diameter.

2. Drainage holes – 3 holes in the bottom ¼ inch in diameter.

3. Entrance hole – 1 hole for doorway 2 inches from bottom of gourd. (Diameter according to type of bird you want to attract – see chart below.)

4. Drill a hole through the stem to attach a leather strip, wire or hanger of your choice to hang the gourd birdhouse.

5. A “clean-out” hole will also be very useful. Look for an old plastic thermos lid. Cut the clean-out hole the same size as the lid. The thermos lid can then be used to screw into the hole to protect the birdhouse from the elements.

Bird House Entrance Hole Chart

  • Nuthatch 1-1.25 inches
  • Chicadee 1.125 inches
  • Titmouse 1.25 inches
  • Beswick’s Wren 1.25 inches
  • Downy Woodpecker 1.25 inches
  • Bluebird 1.5 inches
  • Carolina Wren 1.5 inches
  • Swallow 1.5 inches
  • Hairy Woodpecker 1.5 inches
  • Crested Flycatcher 2 inches
  • Red-Headed Woodpecker 2 inches
  • Purple Martin crescent shape
  • Flicker 2.5 inches
  • Mourning Dove half side of gourd open
  • Barn Swallow half side of gourd open
  • Phoebe half side of gourd open
  • Robin half side of gourd open

    Bird House Maintenance

    Just like other types of birdhouses, gourd birdhouses require maintenance. Every year in the fall or very early spring, weeks before the earliest date the birds are expected to begin nesting, you should perform maintenance.

    The old nest will need to be cleaned out. A “clean-out” hole makes this task a breeze. Then apply a fresh coat of preservative each year and your gourd bird house will last much longer.

    The inside of the gourd should be left with some of the softer inner dried flesh called the pith. The birds use this porous inner lining to cling to for navigating around the inside of the bird house. It also provides added insulation to keep it warmer during cooler seasons and cooler when the temperature rises.

    Many studies have been conducted to observe which man-made birdhouses, wild birds actually prefer. The natural gourd bird house is by far the first choice for Purple Martins. Many other wild bird species also choose natural gourd birdhouses to other man-made abodes. Woodpeckers will likely always prefer their own excavated homes, because their instinct to peck is so strong. But they will from time to time use man-made bird homes and will often choose a gourd birdhouse before other types.

    You will attract the wild birds you want to see in your yard by following the steps outlined here by providing attractive and functional natural gourd birdhouses.

    This article was contributed by Judy Coates. If you would like to learn other interesting and educational facts about attracting backyard birds to your garden then please visit her website at: The Scoop on Wild Bird Feeders

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