Access Doors & Canopies
Properly prepared gourds make excellent
nesting quarters for all kinds of birds. But, because the interior
of natural gourds can't be accessed, it makes inspection, pest
control and maintenance very difficult. Because of that, I've had a
large number of E-mails with questions about what, if anything, can
be done to gain access to gourds so nest checks and maintenance can
be accomplished. Well, guess what! There is something that can be
done to allow the landlord access into natural gourds.
following are a few pictures of some things that I developed to make
the maintenance of gourds a little easier and of course, more fun.
This is not to say that other folks don't have their own little
tools also, but these have made my life a lot more
The first is a little scraper I made from a piece
of 1/2" dowel about 15" long and a 2" diameter washer that I had
laying around the shop. I screwed the washer onto the end of the
dowel with a 2" long galvanized decking screw. Once you cut the two
inch entrance hole cut in the gourd and dump out the seeds, this
tool helps to get inside the gourd to scrape out all the unwanted
debris. The long handle makes it very easy to get all the way to the
back of the larger gourds and scrape them clean.
What I did was sharpen the edges of mine a
little so it would scrape easier, but this is not necessary. It will
still do the same even if it isn't sharpened.
The next little item is a hook I made to pull
out old nesting materials at the end of the year. This is just some
1/4" aluminum rod, bent in the shape shown. It really works very
well. It's very light, yet strong enough to break up the mud dams
the martins build in the front of the nest and then easily drag it
out of the gourd. I used a file and slightly sharpened mine so it
would be easier to dig into and break up the nesting material. I
bent the return back into the main rod to form a handle and so it
wouldn't catch when I stuck it in my pocket.
The next item is a little flashlight and
mirror for peering into the dark interior of a gourd that doesn't
have access doors. To make it, take a coat hanger, cut off the
unusable twisted portion and then straighten it out as much as
possible. Then bend it in half. On the end where both cut ends of
the hanger come together, bend about 1 1/2" of the ends at
approximately 45 deg. Then, take a small mirror that is smaller than
the hole you plan to put it into and hot glue it onto the the ends
of the hanger as shown below. (I got mine out of an old compact case
that a friend gave me). Keep the ends of the hanger separated
towards the outside of the mirror. It makes it a lot easier to look
through and see the mirror better. Then add a small flashlight with
a couple of rubber bands and bingo, when you turn on the flashlight,
the light bounces down off the mirror at a 90 deg angle and you are
able to look over the top of the flashlight and view what is
happening down in the bowl at the back of the nest. And be careful.
Your charges are delicate and you don't want to break any eggs or
harm any young. Go slow until you get used to working with a mirror.
Access Holes & Canopies
Of course the ultimate situation would be if you could
just put your whole hand right in the gourd and then do whatever
needs doing. Then, when you're done, close the gourd back up. The
next three pictures show what my gourds look like with both canopies
and access doors added to them. All my gourds now have these little
niceties and it really makes my life a whole lot more enjoyable when
it comes time to tend my martins. Total cost of materials to add
them is about $2.00 per gourd. I highly recommend they be added to
natural gourds to properly care for martins that decide to nest in
One more point. The reason I go through so much
trouble to fix my natural gourds up this way is because natural
gourds with good thick walls are natural insulators from the
elements. Both heat and cold are controlled very well and this may
be one of the reasons purple martins like them so much. When painted
white or a very light pastel color, the martins seem to be attracted
to them and they just have to investigate them. The gourds seem to
be natural cavities, and since they are cavity nesting birds, they
will quite often move right in. It worked for me.
If this interests you and you think you might
want to add them to your gourds, then the following are pictures and
excerpts from an article that was written by James R Hill
III, founder of the PMCA, and appeared in volumn
7(2) of the Purple Martin Update. It explains how to
attach both canopies and access doors to gourds.
as you can see are little overhanging roofs that are attached to the
gourd over the entrance holes, are easy to apply and help prevent
the weather from getting in the entrance hole. These canopies also
provide an additional place for the martins to perch.
access doors are bottle tops that are attached to the side of the
gourd and allow the landlord to actually put his or her hand inside
and do whatever it is that requires doing, then screw the cap back
on and close it back up.
The following is a list of the
materials you will need to add these canopies and access doors to
A scalpel or one sided razor
A pair of scissors
A black marker or pencil
A pair of tin snips
A wire brush or medium sand
A power drill with a small
pilot drill. (.090" in dia, used to pre-drill holes for screws)
A screw driver and some #8
A can of black enamel spray
A small 1" brush
A 4" hole saw or jig saw of
A caulking gun and a tube of
silicone weather caulking
Light gage sheet aluminum or
flashing. (For canopies)
1/2 gal Klear Stor plastic
jars from Wal-Mart or Kmart. (For access doors).
Special Note: I was able to purchase1/2 gallon jars by the
dozen from Western Plastics Inc in Phoenix, Ar. Ph
(602)-253-1163 Ask for Toni, she knows all about it now.
I found these to work just great and the bottoms of the jars can be
used to make the plastic canopies shown below.
The following pictorial, (scanned from the
Update), depicts the steps to make and then add the canopies
and screw-on access doors to your gourds.
Note: If you
plan to add either or both of these items to new gourds, they should
be added before weatherproofing and painting. If adding to
painted gourds, sand the painted areas to remove the paint, add
them, then repaint. The directions below are for one gourd. If you
have more than one, you may want to complete all of one step at one
time to save time since you already have the tools out.
following also assumes you have already drilled the gourd with
entrance, hanging and drainage holes.
First, carefully cut the top and neck off of one of
the jars. To do this, start the cut with the scalpel or razor blade,
then finish it with scissors. Do this at the point where the round
part of the neck meets the flat side of the jar, about 1 inch below
the cap as indicated by the dotted line in Picture 1. Now remove the
cover from the neck and set the newly cut portion against the right
side of the gourd. Using a marker, draw a circle on the gourd on the
inside of the neck. (Picture 2). Now replace the cover so paint
doesn't get on the threads, and, using a fast drying enamel paint,
paint both the insides and outsides of the cap and neck, then set
aside and let dry,
Now drill or cut the hole in your gourd for the access
door. It should be about 4" in diameter. (Picture 3). Center the jug
neck over the hole, and using a small drill, make 3 or 4 pilot holes
in the jug neck and gourd. Then attach the cap using 1/2" long, #8
wood screws. Don't over tighten and strip the screw in the gourd.
Using 100% silicone caulking, (DAP 100% silicone
caulking or it's equivalent is recommended), apply a 1/2" thick bead
around the edge of the jug neck where it meets the gourd. Using a
brush, smooth the caulking (I used my finger and it worked just
fine), being sure to cover the screw heads. (Pictures
Note: Wood screws are sharp pointed and may stick
through the gourd wall, so while your adding caulking, reach through
the hole and dab a gob on the end of each screw so the point doesn't
protrude. After it solidifies, it will prevent injury to the birds
Now, before you can apply the canopies, you'll have
to make them first. See Canopies below.
Set the straight
side of one of the canopies against the gourd over the access hole
with the rounded corners out, adjust it so it is centered, and using
a marking pen, draw a line on the gourd along the outside of the
canopy. (Picture 7).
Now, following the line, add a good 1/2" thick bead of
caulking to the gourd, (Picture 8), then push the straight edge of
the canopy into the caulking, (Picture 9),
and smooth with a small brush. (Picture 10). (I used
my finger and got very good results here too). It's sticky, so take
your time and be sure and have some paper towels handy. Once you get
it to your liking, set aside to dry for 24 hours.
hold the gourd up to a bright light and look through the entrance
hole. If you see any light leaking in around the access door, apply
a final coat of black spray paint as shown. (Picture 6).
Once dry, they can be painted with a good quality
paint. (Picture 11). (See Painting Gourds below). This now
allows you to have full access to your gourds so you can do your
nest checks, pest and parasite control or whatever else you have to
do in them. (Picture 12).
|Good place to sit
||Good place to hang out
||Good place to sing
The following sketch depicts the dimensions for a plastic canopy
that I use. It's made from the bottom part of the jar that I
took the top off of when I added the access holes to my
gourds. It's extremely lightweight and very easy to make with
just a pair of scissors and a 1/8th inch drill. It's very
flexible and easy to work with and once screwed in place, it can be
caulked as shown above and it works just as good as the harder to