Monday, November 1, 2010

Duke Gardens: Craft Sale Preview

How to make a gourd birdhouse
This little bird is just for decoration, but you can attract real birds with the directions below.

By Mary Ann Rood

The easiest way to make a birdhouse is to let a gourd vine do it for you.

Most gourd crafters use the traditional shape known as a martin birdhouse, but any gourd is suitable that has enough room for the preferred bird tenant. Grapefruit sized is good for most small birds. Fat dipper gourds, apple gourds and goose gourds often have enough space. Bottle gourds, with a shape like a dumbbell, work so well that seed companies often call them birdhouses.

More than 50 types of North American birds will set up house in a gourd. Purple martins are the most famous. They are colonial; many will live close to each other. Although people have erected thriving martin poles a few blocks from the North Carolina Governor's Mansion and at busy city intersections, the martin's ideal is an open location 30 to 120 feet from a human-occupied house with open water nearby. The Purple Martin Conservation Association tells about it at

A bird that will live in a gourd is what ornithologists call a cavity-dweller. That pretty much means they used to live in a hole in a rotten tree. Perfect is not what they expect. You don't have to remove every bit of fiber and seed. Birds build nests from fiber (and often spider webs) and they eat seed.

Here is how to make a gourd birdhouse for the small birds in city and town back yards.

Cut an entrance hole in a dry gourd. Most crafters use an inexpensive drill attachment called a hole saw, which is easy to use. You can also use a craft knife. Leave off the perch, as they just enable predators to get at baby birds easily.

Drill a few holes in the bottom for drainage. Drill a pair of holes in the top for hanging. It's easier to push the wire into both holes and down toward the entrance hole, pull both ends out and fasten them together than to try to thread the neck of the gourd like a sewing needle.

Theoretically, wire is more frustrating to squirrels than twine or leather thongs, but the squirrels in Durham backyards don't care. Wire has the advantage that it doesn't rot. Scrap electrical wire works fine. Some bird experts now recommend ventilation holes in the top half of the gourd.

How big to make the entrance and how high you place the birdhouse depends on what birds you hope to attract. Here are the preferences of cavity-dwelling birds of the Southeast: bluebird, 1-1/2 inch hole, 4 to 7 feet high in an open space (fence posts are great); Carolina wren, 1-1/8 inches, 5 to 10 feet high; chickadee, 1-1/8 inches, 15 feet high; titmouse, 1-1/4 inches, 5 to 15 feet high; nuthatch, 1-1/4 inches, 5 to 15 feet high. All these small birds need entrance holes about 6 inches above the floor.

Food and especially water nearby help attract birds. After the birds leave, clean out the old nesting material and wash the inside of the gourd with a weak chlorine bleach solution. Don't leave the house out all winter, especially if it is decorated. The gourd and the birds will live together happily for many years.

Mary Ann Rood is a member and past president of the N.C. Gourd Society. Gourd birdhouses made by fellow member Rochelle Nowik will be among the nature-themed gifts at the Duke Gardens Garden Guild Craft Sale Nov. 13. The sale is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Doris Duke Center, Sarah P. Duke Gardens, 420 Anderson St., Durham. For information about the sale or joining the volunteer Garden Guild, call 668-1705 or e-mail

This article first appeared in the Herald-Sun's Oct. 30 Home & Garden section.

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