Gourd Bird Houses

Build a nest box out of an unexpected material

Purple martin bird houses
Arthur Tilley / Getty Images
  • 01 of 12

    Making Gourd Bird Houses

    Gourd Bird Houses - Dried Gourds
    Gourd Bird Houses - Dried Gourds. 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 bird house 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 bird houses 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. Bird house gourds are available almost everywhere that ornamental gourds are sold and even may have been pre-cleaned.

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  • 02 of 12

    What You'll Need

    How to Make Gourd Bird Houses
    Here's What You'll Need to Get Started How to Make Gourd Bird Houses. Marie Iannotti

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

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

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

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

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  • 03 of 12

    Drilling the Doorway

    Gourd Bird Houses - Getting Started
    Gourd Bird Houses - Getting Started. Marie Iannotti

    Once your gourd is fully cured, you can begin making your bird house by drilling the opening doorway. The size will depend on the size of your gourd. In this example, we used a 1-3/8" 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.

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  • 04 of 12

    Making the Entrance

    Gourd Bird Houses - Making the Opening
    Gourd Bird Houses - Making the Opening. 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.

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  • 05 of 12

    Cleaning the Inside of the Gourd

    Gourd Bird Houses - Cleaning Out the Gourd
    Gourd Bird Houses - Cleaning Out the Gourd. Marie Iannotti

    Some gourds will dry better than others. You may be lucky and have a gourd whose seeds have all loosened and can simply be shaken out. Or you may find yourself with a gourd like 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 bird house.

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  • 06 of 12

    Saving the Seeds

    Gourd Bird Houses - Gourd Seeds
    Gourd Bird Houses - Gourd Seeds. Marie Iannotti

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

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  • 07 of 12

    Creating a Perch

    Gourd Bird Houses - Making the Perch
    Gourd Bird Houses - Making the Perch. 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 2 to 2 1/2".

    Drill a 3/8" 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.

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  • 08 of 12

    A Final Cleaning

    Gourd Bird Houses - Cleaning
    Gourd Bird Houses - Cleaning. 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.

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  • 09 of 12

    Smoothing Out the Gourd

    Gourd Bird Houses - Smoothing Them Out.
    Marie Iannotti

    Begin the final clean-up with a piece of the fine sandpaper. Focus on smoothing down all of the peeling flecks of 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.

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  • 10 of 12

    One Last Touch-Up

    Gourd Bird Houses - Cleaning the Gourds
    Gourd Bird Houses - Cleaning the Gourds. Marie Iannotti

    Finally, you should wash the bird house gourd with a mix of 1 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 bird house unique.

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  • 11 of 12

    Painting and Finishing Touches

    Gourd Bird Houses - Painting Gourds
    Gourd Bird Houses - Painting Gourds. Marie Iannotti

    At this point, you can leave your bird house 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, we 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" 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. We've found 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 saw horses.

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

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  • 12 of 12

    Hanging Your Gourd Bird House

    Gourd Bird Houses - Finishing and Hanging Gourd Bird Houses
    Gourd Bird Houses - Finishing and Hanging Gourd Bird Houses. Marie Iannotti

    That's pretty much all there is to it, except for displaying and enjoying your bird houses. 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 bird houses in a dry spot in the garage or basement to enjoy again next year.