Growing and Using Bird House Gourds
Birdhouse, or bottle gourds, are perfect homes for small birds. Every year several families of House Wrens build nests, raise families and eat garden pests in our yard. Watching them carry cabbage worms into their house to feed their babies is one of my favorite ways to spend a summer afternoon. Sometimes they make more than one nest per season.
They are fun to watch and listen to. Growing Bird House or Bottle gourds is very easy and they make beautiful natural fences given the propper support. The leaves are large and lovely and the blooms are pristine white. The seeds are available at your local nursery or garden shop. Wait until ths soil is warm before planting. They will cover a fence or sprawl across the ground. If you don't have room to grow your own gourds, try finding them for sale on-line or at your local farmer's market.
The gourd has to be thoroughly dry, so if you start out with a fresh one, place it on an upended wicker paper plate holder in a basement or garage (don't let it freeze). You can also put them inside near a heating vent. It will take several months for them to dry completely, but the gourds will be ready to use by the following spring.
You'll know when they are dry. They become very light and you'll hear the seeds rattling about inside. If a mold forms on the gourds while they are drying - don't worry - once it is gone, it will leave beautiful designs behind. Try to get one with a couple inches of stem on it, this makes it easier to stabilize when you hang it.
I use a small knife and cut a 1-1.5" hold in the bottom half - in about the middle of the lower 'globe'. I dump the seed out, but I think the birds will do it themselves as well.
Wrap a piece of wire (like green gardening wire) around the middle of the gourd (the waist) and then around the stem. I hang them about 4 or 5 feet from the ground. A garden 'shepherds hook' works well and you can locate it in your veggie garden or flower bed so the birds will have lots of bugs to eat and you'll have a more successful garden.
Make sure there is a bird bath or bowl of water nearby as well and a nearby tree or large shrug is handy for the baby birds to practice their flying and landing skills.
What I like most about using the gourds is that they are natural and don't distract from the garden. They often last for a number of years and the birds don't seem to mind if they're not cleaned out. Some people paint or varnsih them, but I prefer the natural look.
Wren's build decoy nests to confuse predators - so don't worry if you find one that seems to have an abandoned nest - it's just the fake one.
My neighbor has had bluebirds nest in his gourds, but I guess my garden is designated a wren's rest, and I love it and so do they.