Gourds are a fall staple, and you can add one to your backyard by turning it into a birdhouse.
Mark Derse/Country Woman
What You’ll Need to Turn a Gourd into a Birdhouse
Dried birdhouse gourd
Pumpkin carving tool
220- and 400-grit sandpaper
How to Turn a Gourd into a Birdhouse Directions
Use pumpkin carving tool and cut a circle into belly of gourd. (See note below on suggested hole sizes, depending on the type of bird you are looking to attract.) Sand cut edges with 220-grit sandpaper. Clean out as much of the dried flesh and seeds inside gourd as possible.
Lightly sand outside of gourd with 220-grit sandpaper. Wipe off dust with rag and sand again with 400-grit sandpaper.
Drill horizontally through top of gourd, using a bit the same size as wooden dowel. Trim down dowel to fit through top of gourd with 2 in. on each side outside the gourd.
Draw design onto gourd with pencil, and trace with paint pen.
Spray gourd with varnish to seal. Tie twine around each dowel side, making a loop to hang.
NOTE: Each bird species has its own requirements for habitat, entrance-hole size and cavity dimensions. For instance, house wrens need a 1-in. entrance hole in a 5- to 6-in. diameter gourd and prefer them hung in a shady area close to brush. Purple martins like doorways that measure 2 1/8 in. and the gourds to be hung high in open areas. Chickadees need a 1 1/8-in. hole and like to nest in wooded areas. Bluebirds and tree swallows require a 1½-in. hole and prefer to nest in open areas. For flycatchers, make the hole 1¾ to 2 in. in diameter and hang the gourd in a tree close to a brushy area.
Learn how to build a modern birdhouse in the video below.
Plus, Learn 30 Brilliant Ways to Attract Hummingbirds to Your Backyard
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A Little Bit About Hummingbirds
Hummingbirds are some of the most fascinating and flashy fliers you'll ever see. Yet they're also some of the most misunderstood. If you want to attract them and keep them coming around (and don't we all?) you might not be sure how to get started. After all, a lot of information is out there, and it's a little overwhelming trying to decide what to believe or try. To provide a little insight into these tiny feathered gems, we thought we would get inside their heads a bit and think the way they do. Of course, we can't really think like hummingbirds. But we have studied their behavior enough over the years to make some good guesses about what they're thinking. Here's what we think they might advise. Plus: Learn how to build a cantina bird feeder for your backyard.
Richard Day/Daybreak Imagery
"This is One of Our Favorite Plants"
Your backyard hummingbirds (and butterﬂies!) go crazy for the abundant nectar in the beautiful late-season purple-and-white blooms of the Mexican bush sage. In cool climates, treat this shrubby perennial as an annual and plant it as soon as the threat of frost has passed. It needs a long growing season and mild winter to survive.
"This is What Our Home Looks Like"
When it comes to the job of parenting, female hummingbirds do all the heavy lifting, from building the nest to raising the young. After both eggs hatch, the mother feeds her nestlings a slurry of nectar and keeps them warm. Once they're about 15 days old, she starts bringing them small insects, continuing to care for them until about a week after they leave the nest. Most nests are built in the fork of a tree or shrub, 10 to 40 feet above the ground, so having trees in your yard is important for attracting hummingbirds.
These Container Plant Combos are Full of Nectar
Whether you have a sprawling landscape or a small patio, growing nectar-rich blooms in pots is a no-fail way to boost the hummingbird and butterfly population in your garden. These cherished fliers flock to colorful flowers that are nestled into favorite pots. The major benefit of this small-space strategy is placing the pots wherever you need to—near a sugar-water feeder, a shady corner or a sunny balcony.Try these two combos, or mix and match with other hummingbird favorites! The first includes one Ablazin' Purple Salvia, two Colorblaze Lime Time Coleus, and two Suberbells Evening Star Calibrachoa. And the second combination includes two Surfinia Sky Blue petunia, and two Supertunia Mini Rose Veined Petunia.
Get a Little Sappy
Hummingbirds, especially males, sometimes arrive in their northern nesting grounds before flowers have started to bloom. Where can they find the sweet treats they need for energy? Tree sap. Hummingbirds are known to follow sapsuckers around and drink sap from the holes they drill in trees like maple, birch, and hickory. Plant some of these trees in your own yard to attract hummingbirds that arrive in early spring, along with their sapsucker friends. Plus: These 10 plants will help you to create a perfect rain garden in your landscape.
Photo: Courtesy of Lisa Swanson
"Incorporate a Splashy Water Feature"
Although they occasionally stop at a shallow bath for a dip, these tiny birds prefer to wet their feathers by flying through or sitting under a gentle spray. One of the best ways to transform your landscape into a hummingbird hub is to incorporate a moving water feature. Hummingbirds rinse off in the rain, at splashing streams or in the spray of waterfalls, and you can re-create the same kind of natural showers they love in your own backyard. It's easy!
Check out this simple, yet gorgeous backyard water feature for some ideas.
"Use Red! It Really Does Work"
In North America, the flowers best adapted for hummingbird pollination are bright red blooms with a tubular shape. Hummingbirds instinctively watch for red things and investigate them. (We’ve seen them making detours to check out the taillights of parked cars, and even someone’s sunburned nose!) There’s no question that planting red flowers will when attracting hummingbirds. These wildflowers do amazingly well in home gardens.
Along Came a Spiderweb
Many hummingbirds use spiderweb silk to build and anchor their tiny nests. The unique flexibility of spiderweb silk allows the nest to expand as the baby hummers grow from the size of jellybean eggs to full-grown birds in the space of just a few weeks. During nesting season (mid to late spring in cold-winter climates, and year-round in warm areas), allow spiderwebs to accumulate in your garden rather than knocking them down. This may help attract hummingbirds looking for a place to nest.
Flying saucer-shaped feeders are backyard favorites for a reason. They're super easy to clean and refill, and the sugar water is usually far enough below the feeding ports that pesky bugs can't dive in for a sweet snack. A built-in ant moat provides additional protection. Buy this one on Amazon here.
Some companies sell hummingbird nectar, but you can easily make your own. Measure out 1 part white sugar to 4 parts water and mix thoroughly. If you boil the mixture to remove impurities, it may keep longer before it starts to spoil. And don't mix in any honey, red dye or other additives when feeding hummingbirds. Simple sugar and water work just fine. Keep your bird bath germ and mosquito free with these cleaning tips.
Sugar water that has started to grow moldy can be dangerous to birds. If you're going to put out feeders, it's essential that you keep them clean and replace the mixture regularly—at least once every three or four days, more often in hot weather. If the mixture starts to look cloudy, clean the feeder and replace the nectar immediately. This wreath feeds birds and looks beautiful, too!
Goldfinches and some other songbirds may feed together peacefully, but hummingbirds often fight around feeders, chasing one another away. Hummingbirds are adapted to feeding at flowers, which will produce only limited amounts of nectar, so they instinctively protect their food sources even when they're at feeders with an unlimited supply. Try putting up two or more feeders that can’t be seen from one another. Even the toughest little hummingbird can't monopolize multiple feeders if he or she can't see them all at once.
Photo: Courtesy of Proven Winners, provenwinners.com
Large Firecracker Plant
Every year I place a big pot of large firecracker plant (Cuphea 'Vermillionaire') on my deck. Hummingbirds are zipping about just inches from me all summer! — Janet Doherty, Scarborough, Maine
"We're Creatures of Habit"
If the hummingbirds returning in spring seem to remember where you had flowers or feeders in previous years, they probably do. As tiny creatures that rely on specialized food sources in a big, big world, they have to be good at finding their way back to the best spots. They have a highly developed sense of what scientists call spatial memory. This is a good reason to work extra hard at attracting hummingbirds. Once you get them established, they’ll be back for more. Any of these 49 colorful plants will brighten up your landscape.
"Bring On the Bugs"
We all know hummingbirds love nectar and sugar water. But did you know that insects make a up a large part of their diet too, especially during nesting season? Gnats, flies, mosquitoes, and spiders provide the protein these diminutive birds need. So while it's tempting to try to clear as many pesky insects from your yard as possible, you'll actually attract hummingbirds by letting the insects be. You can even try to bring in more fruit flies by putting out overripe bananas or other fruit.
Ant-Proof Your Hummingbird Feeder
If it bugs you that ants come to your hummingbird feeder and treat it like a picnic table, try this. Punch a little hole in the bottom of a shallow can and thread through the line that suspends the feeder. Tie a large knot in the line so the container rests on the knot. Seal the hole at the top and bottom with silicone caulk. Then punch a hole in a smaller can, slip that over the string and caulk it to the bottom of the first can. After the caulk hardens, pour in water and your feeder will be ant-proof. It acts like the moat around a castle. — reader Glenn Rosser
Like this tip? You'll enjoy these 45 hugely helpful handy hints as well.
To make your high-level offerings truly stand out, focus on vivid flowers. For a sunny balcony, geraniums are a solid choice. Their bloom clusters are huge and draw the eye of humans and hummingbirds alike from a distance. But geraniums are generally scanty in nectar, so add a pot or rail box of nectar-rich nasturtiums (long-blooming and easy to start from seed), New Guinea impatiens or other hummingbird-friendly flowers to keep the nectar-seekers there once they arrive. If your balcony is on the shady side, annual shade impatiens (Impatiens walleriana) over a satisfying nectar source and a highly visible attraction.
While the hummingbirds enjoy having your backyard as a nectar source, they aren't relying on you 100 percent. One of the top questions asked is: "If I have my feeder out in fall, will it keep the hummingbirds from migrating?" The answer is no – feeding hummingbirds will not stop them from migrating. They'll migrate when they're ready, whether feeders are available. It's instinct!
Backyard birders sometimes worry because they had a pair of hummingbirds around and then the male disappeared, leaving a single mother behind. But this is normal for hummingbirds. The male never helps with nest building, incubation or feeding the young. The amazing mother hummingbird does all that work herself. Meanwhile, the male goes off in search of another female. It seems odd to humans, but this behavior ensures that there will be even more hummingbirds for us to enjoy! This reader built a deer-proof bird feeder.