Some of the articles on these pages were written by Chuck Abare. My thanks to him for sharing some of the knowledge he's gained from his years of study on this subject. I consider Chuck to be an expert on Purple Martins, and using natural gourds for their housing. He has helped me greatly with designing suitable lodging for this wonderful bird.
The gourd family covers a broad spectrum of vined plants. It ranges from the edible kind, such as pumpkins, squash and cucumbers all the way through the inedible kind such as, well, hard-shelled gourds. That's the kind of gourds we're going to concentrate on. The dictionary describes these hard-shelled versions as: "any of various hard-rinded inedible fruits of plants of two genera (Lagenaria and Cucurbita) often used for ornaments or for vessels and utensils." Gourds come in many shapes and sizes but are all relatively the same when it comes to growing and drying for various uses. The process of sowing, growing, harvesting and drying the gourds is a long process but well worth the effort if you have patience and the space to store the gourds for drying.
Gourds are used for a number of different reasons depending on the type you have. Some are small and colorful with all kinds of weird and interesting shapes and usually used for ornamental purposes. These are usually a soft shelled gourd and you often see these in little ornamental baskets for decorations.
Some are intermediate sized and are used for bowls, pots, jugs and drinking vessels. These are often the favorites for artisans and are used for artistic purposes and most of the artistic crafts. You'll see a lot of these at gourd and craft shows.
Then there's the larger sized that are basically used for bird houses. These are the bottle gourds and are the kind we're interested in. They are often called "bird house gourds", because that's what the early Indians used them for. They discovered that if they cut holes in them, cleaned them out and hung them in trees or on poles around their gardens, birds would use them as a nesting site. They quickly found that, as they put more of them up, if they could get a certain kind of bird to use them, the insect population around the general village declined. As the purple martins discovered the gourds, they left the holes in the trees and assumed the gourds as living quarters. Because the constant commotion around the gardens kept other birds away from the gourds, the martins soon learned that being around man was beneficial to them. Man supplied them with nesting sites, kept other birds away from the gourds and they had places to rear their young, thus, the beginning of a long and happy relationship between man and the purple martin.
Native Americans have used natural gourds for Purple Martin homes for hundreds of years
artwork courtesy J. Hill III
� Dan Dunkin 2003