Gourd Birdhouses

Purple martin birdhouses with six gourds underneath.
Arthur Tilley/Getty Images

Making Gourd Birdhouses

Six dried gourds made into birdhouses.
Marie Iannotti

Gourds are easy to grow, and if you've ever done it yourself, you know how plentiful your crop can be. So why not put them to good use?

Making a gourd birdhouse is just as easy. You'll need to dry and clean the gourds first, inside and out. However, you have to be a bit patient and allow the gourds to dry, or cure, for a season. After that, the fun part begins. You can leave your gourds au naturel, to blend in with the woodlands, or express yourself by decorating your gourd birdhouses as well as the trees from which they'll be hanging.

To cure your gourds, you can simply leave them outside for the winter at a somewhat sheltered site, or you can cure the gourds indoors where they won't rot or get eaten by local wildlife.

If you choose not to grow your own gourds, you're not excluded from the fun. Birdhouse gourds are available almost everywhere that ornamental gourds are sold and even may have been pre-cleaned.

What You'll Need

Two gourds on a table with drill bits, saw, glue, and spray paint.
Marie Iannotti

Gather the following tools and supplies to begin the transformation from gourd to birdhouse:

  • Gourds
  • Drill
  • 3/8-inch, 1/4-inch, and 1 3/8-inch drill bits
  • Small knife
  • Sandpaper
  • Wire
  • 1/4-inch dowel
  • Teaspoon
  • Wood glue

Later on, you'll also need bleach and some steel wool.

If you plan on decorating your birdhouse, you'll need wire, paints, brushes, and varnish. Try using a spray varnish as a finishing spray for your birdhouse, whether or not you paint it.

Drilling the Doorway

Drill bit drilling into a gourd.
Marie Iannotti

Once your gourd is fully cured, you can begin making your birdhouse by drilling the opening doorway. The size will depend on the size of your gourd. In this example, the person used a 1-3/8-inch drill bit. Place the door so that it is where the bottom bulb of the gourd begins to curve upward.

It helps to brace the gourd against something so it doesn’t roll as you drill. Hold the gourd and the drill firmly, but you don’t need to use heavy pressure. The gourds are usually the consistency of thin plasterboard.

Making the Entrance

Using a knife to make a circle opening in the gourd.
Marie Iannotti

The hole will probably not come out clean. The texture of any gourds used will vary. The harder the shell, the cleaner the cut. You can clean up the ragged edges with a small knife. But don’t fret if the opening turns out imperfect. The birds tend to make adjustments when they move in, anyway.

Cleaning the Inside of the Gourd

Circular opening to a gourd birdhouse.
Marie Iannotti

Some gourds will dry better than others. You may be lucky and have a gourd with seeds all loosened and you can simply shake them out. Or you may find yourself with a gourd such as this—chock-full of clumps of seeds and peeling inner walls. Either way, use your fingers and the teaspoon to scrape out as much of the gourd guts as you can. Again, what's left will be taken care of by the first residents of your birdhouse.

Saving the Seeds

Seeds and inside of gourd placed on newspaper with the empty gourd nearby.
Marie Iannotti

Don't waste all these gourd seeds. They are ready to be planted, and there's plenty to share with friends.

Creating a Perch

Empty gourd on a table with two wooden dowels.
Marie Iannotti

Although it's not necessary, you may want to add a small perch at the front door for the birds to stand on. To do this, cut your dowel to a length of about two to 2 1/2 inches.

Drill a 3/8-inch hole just below the doorway. Try to angle the hole slightly downward to compensate for the curve in the gourd, and make the perch perpendicular to the doorway.

Don't attach the perch yet; it will be easier to finish cleaning the gourd without it.

A Final Cleaning

Gourd next to a bowl, bleach, and scrubber.
Marie Iannotti

Examine the gourd for any cracks or splits. If everything looks solid, grab your bleach, a bowl of water, a sheet of fine sandpaper, and some steel wool.

Smoothing out the Gourd

Smoothing out the gourd with sandpaper next to a bowl of water on newspaper.
Marie Iannotti

Begin the final cleanup with a piece of the fine sandpaper. Focus on smoothing down all of the peeling flecks of the dry outer shell. This shouldn't take too much pressure. Go over the surface a few times, dust off the residue, and test to see if it's smooth to your touch. When you're satisfied with the feel, you can move on to washing the gourd with bleach.

One Last Touch-Up

Person scrubbing the gourd near a bowl of water and on top of newspaper.
Marie Iannotti

Finally, you should wash the birdhouse gourd with a mix of one part bleach to 10 parts water. Use a steel wool pad to do this so that it can scrape off any remaining residue. The bleach disinfects the outer shell and slightly lightens any imperfections on the gourd. It won't make the spots disappear. For perfection, you'll need a fake plastic gourd. The imperfections are what make each birdhouse unique.

Painting and Finishing Touches

A red and blue gourd birdhouse hanging to dry along some ladders.
Marie Iannotti

At this point, you can leave your birdhouse gourd as-is or you can get creative and paint it. Even if you want to leave it natural-looking, you should spray on a few coats of varnish to protect it from the elements.

Before you begin painting, you'll need to poke a wire through the two top holes. Hopefully, you've made the holes large enough to maneuver the wire through; if not, it's not too late to drill them a bit larger. Once through, twist the ends of the wire together securely. You can cover the ends with plastic tape to keep them from jabbing you. Another option is to wrap a section of rubber hose over the ends of the wire, to protect both yourself and the tree you'll be hanging the gourd from.

Next, you need to glue on the perch. Rim the hole with a good amount of wood glue, then twist the dowel into the hole so that it's approximately 1/4-inch deep inside the gourd.

You may need to brace the dowel on something as it dries, to get it at a perpendicular position to the doorway. Allow it to dry at least overnight.

Finally, it's time to paint. Hanging the gourds and spray painting is the easiest way to get good coverage. A handy tip for hanging the gourd is to suspend it from a broom handle resting across two sawhorses.

Apply two to three coats of paint and let the birdhouses dry. Then apply two coats of varnish as a sealer. Spray varnish provides even coverage without dripping.

Hanging Your Gourd Birdhouse

A red and blue gourd birdhouse hanging from a tree.
Marie Iannotti

That's pretty much all there is to it, except for displaying and enjoying your birdhouses. You can bring them inside during the winter to protect them from freezing and fading. They should last several years, but the more exposure to the elements they weather, the more they wear out.

At the end of the season, clean out the old nest material and store your birdhouses in a dry spot in the garage or basement to enjoy again next year.