November 21, 2003
The Backyard Gardener
By Marge Muck For Appeal-Democrat
Creating gourd birdhouses takes some patience. Gourds must be completely dry before beginning your project. Some of the tools you will need are a fine blade small saw and/or a drill with small assorted bits. A hole-saw bit is handy. A wood burning set is great for decorating the gourds. Color may be applied using leather dye, shoe polish, water color or acrylic paint. Seal and polish the gourd with varnish or shellac spray paint.
The hardest part is waiting for the gourd to dry. Gourds take from three months to a year to dry completely depending on the size. There are all kinds of ways to dry gourds. Most people place the gourds on newspaper in the warm dry place like a garage or hang them from the rafters. A dark place helps keep the colors brighter. Good air circulation will speed the drying process. When they are dry the seeds rattle around when you shake them and the skin is very hard and dry to the touch. By the time the gourds are dry they usually form a layer of mold on the outside. Wash the gourds with a vinegar and water solution using a Tuffy or similar pad or a stiff brush to remove the mold. Let the gourds air dry a day or so.
For a bird house you need a gourd that is a diameter of at least five inches at the base. It needs to be big enough for the birds to turn around inside and keep the fledglings from falling out. Decide where and what size you want for the hole. The size depends on the birds you want to live in the house it can vary from one and a half inches for house finches to two inches for bluebirds. Use the hole-saw or the fine toothed saw to cut the hole in the upper half of the gourd. Shake out the seeds and clean out some of the loose stuff from the inside of the gourd. Birds like to be some what rough on the inside so they have something to climb on to get out. You can make a perch from a piece of gourd stem or twig and attach it below the hole after you finish decorating or painting the gourd. You will need two small holes near the top of the gourd to attach a cord to hang the gourd and three or four small holes here and there for ventilation.
The gourd birdhouse is ready to be decorated. Use the wood burning kid for decoration or paint the outside of the birdhouse. Use light color paint and be sure the holes are not plugged. You don't need to paint it or decorate it, that part is for you not the birds. Seal the outside of the birdhouse with the varnish or shellac and attach the perch.
Hang your birdhouse out of the prevailing winds. Most birds don't like for close neighbors. Hang the birdhouse in a tree or attach it to a post or fence high enough for the birds to easily fly in and out safely.
Put your birdhouse out in late winter and enjoy the view. Gourd birdhouses will last for many years if they are cleaned and stored in the off season. It may take more than one season for the birds to try your birdhouse. They have to get use to it hanging in the tree and are sure it is safe first. Most of the birds we see in the valley are branch nest builders but you might be lucky and attract a California Bluebird. Have fun.