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A Bird's Home

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.

The 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 enjoyable.

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 them.



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.

The canopies 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.

The 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 your gourds:

  • A scalpel or one sided razor blade
  • A pair of scissors
  • A black marker or pencil
  • A pair of tin snips
  • A wire brush or medium sand paper
  • A power drill with a small pilot drill. (.090" in dia, used to pre-drill holes for screws)
  • A screw driver and some #8 wood screws
  • A can of black enamel spray paint
  • A small 1" brush
  • A 4" hole saw or jig saw of some sort
  • 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.
The 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. (Picture 4).

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 5).
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 and landlord.
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.
After drying, 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 from

The canopies are made from thin sheet aluminum. They can be made from what is known as 'flashing'. You won't need much, so don't go and buy a whole roll just to make a few canopies. If you don't have any, any local housing or roofing contractor usually has some and they will cut you a couple of feet off of a roll. Shouldn't cost you much more than $1.00 per foot. He may even give it to you if you tell him what your going to do with it. Then you use some tin snips and cut the metal to the dimensions indicated.
The canopies are made from pieces that are 6" long x 2" wide with a radius on two corners on one side. (See picture 7). Be careful. Sheet metal is sharp and will cut you, so use the proper precautions when working with it, then sand the edges to remove any burrs and sharp edges. Employing a can of vegetables, (approximately one pound sized can), use the edge of the top, draw the two radiused corners with a marker and cut them off. Now form the canopies by bending them around the can of vegetables. This will give you the approximate shape you need, then you can finish shaping it from there.

Canopies and 1/2 gal jars can also be ordered from the PMCA's Martin Marketing Place.
Email = PMCA@edinboro.edu

Another Idea


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 make aluminum.


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by Chuck Abare


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