Occasionally, The Scout Report feels strongly
enough to offer editorials in The Scout Report on some martin
GOURDS DO MAKE GOOD MARTINS HOMES
By Rick Cruz
Vice-President of The Purple Martin Society
Many times we hear that martin house manufacturers
trash the use of gourds as Purple Martin housing. What a load
of purple propaganda! Do martin landlords really believe a manufacturer
of aluminum martin houses would really endorse any other type
of housing? It really makes me angry that some self-proclaimed
experts do not examine the so-called facts before completely
debasing something that has the potential to be just as effective
as aluminum housing.
Supposedly, there is no advantage to using gourds
over modern aluminum housing today. I beg to differ! The properly
prepared gourd with a side access entrance hole for landlords
may be more advantageous than aluminum housing. This type of
gourd housing has been developed by Andrew Troyer of Pennsylvania,
who is also a manufacturer of martin-related products.
came up with the idea of making a gourd as easily accessible
as an aluminum house. Up until a few years
ago, you could not access a gourd for pest control, nest checks,
or cleanouts. The accessibility was only through the birds entrance
hole. By using a 4" hole saw, some silicone, small wood
or sheer metal screws, and the neck and lid of a plastic jar,
or lightweight PVC piping, your gourd is now serviceable. The
addition of a small crescent aluminum hood over the entrance
hole offers protection from sun and rain. A small PVC elbow inserted
into the top offers more than adequate ventilation. It can also
be capped early in the season to keep them warmer. A good coat
of primer and white elastomeric paint will keep a gourd plenty
cool in the hot summer sun. Once properly prepared and mounted
on any type of winch system, they perform as well or better than
aluminum housing. I have prepared gourds for myself and for others
and I can personally attest to the fact that it takes less time
to prepare five extra large gourds that assembling a Trio-Grandpa
martin house. I do confess that I already had all the parts pre-prepared,
as well as having had all of the necessary tools and supplies
Now, let's compare natural gourds to aluminum housing
and see how bad gourds really are!
1) Gourds offer no protection whatsoever
Properly hung, a swaying gourd makes a difficult perch for
foraging owls. Owls are not like parrots. Have you ever seen
a parrot hang from a swinging perch
by one leg? Owls cannot access a gourd as easily as they can a 6" cube.
Think about it? An 8" bird, nesting in a 6" compartment, not to mention
both male and female, or even a martin family inside. Why do you think owl
guards were invented? Without a pole guard, aluminum housing is just as susceptible
to climbing predators as gourds are.
2) Gourds deteriorate and need a lot of
Properly treated (copper sulfate) and painted gourds should last longer than
the wood on your house. By cleaning out the old nests and storing them out
of the elements for the off-season, gourds can last for many years.
Have you ever refurbished an old aluminum house that has been exposed to the
elements for two to five years? Well, I have, and it is not pretty. All of
the steel screws and acorn nuts are rusted from moisture and uric acid in the
martin feces. I have had to cut them out with side cutters, The paint does
fade, and some of the aluminum gets pitted and holey. The only way prevent
this, is to clean them out at the end of the season, then bust your butt removing
the house from the pole, and put the house away for the winter. When it comes
down to it, both gourds and aluminum houses will deteriorate without proper
maintenance. It is just a matter of time.
Gourds are fragile, especially in high winds, so they must
So are aluminum housings!! How many aluminum houses escape extensive
damage after a tremendous wind storm that sends the pole crashing
to the ground? Unfortunately,
this does happen and it is expensive to fix. No matter how hard you try to
bang that smashed aluminum back into place, it just does not fit right again.
As for gourds that are ¼" to ½" thick, they can take quite a bang.
I have dropped plenty onto a cement floor and watched in horror as they bounce,
expecting to find them crack beyond repair. I have been amazed to find them
unscathed. It amazes me how well they take the impact. I would be lying if
none cracked, but it tends to be the thin-shelled ones which should not be
used anyway. Properly hung gourds swing in the direction of the wind. Centrifugal
force holds the eggs in place, the same way water stays in a bucket when swung
just like a swing in the wind. So, do not worry about cracked eggs, unless
high winds blow down your pole.
4) Gourds only hold one martin family..\
I sure hope so! When hung 4"-12" away from each other, martins have
more personal space. This lessens the territorial squabbles that occur on aluminum
martin houses. Have you ever noticed how the center holes of 12-compartment
aluminum typically remain unoccupied? Typically, this size house is at capacity
with 6-8 pairs--two pairs per floor,at most, and on opposite ends of the house.
The martins in those compartments tend to beat the daylights out of any other
martin that tries to claim that center compartment. What do you think they
make porch dividers? The porch dividers function like blinders on a horse.
Each martin can not see his immediate neighbor, so their natural territorial
aggression is lessened. In nature, martins nest in loose colonies, preferring
each others company, but not breathing down each others neck. Modern
aluminum housing has intensified male aggression, and quite possibly mass forced-copulation,
resulting in injured or dead, females.
5) Gourds have no porches or guard rail. to
prevent nestling fallouts:
Martins do not need porches. They are just man-made inventions
for our viewing pleasure. Do you think martins would have survived
for thousands of years if
their young were prematurely leaping to their death from a woodpecker hole!?
Martins have specially adapted tail feathers that allow them to prop themselves
vertically just like a woodpecker. They are truly beautiful displaying this
posture at the entrance of a gourd. Besides that, aluminum housing encourages
nestling fallouts for several reasons. Four nestlings, crowded together in
mid July in a 6" cube. Hot! Hot! Hot! "Let's climb out and get some
air. Boy, if I can climb out of the heat, I think I can climb over a 1" or
2" guard rail." We read about martin jumpers from aluminum housing. Truth
is, if it is hot or buggy enough, martin nestlings can launch themselves from
gourds, woodpecker holes, and even aluminum housing. They just have an easier
time from the one inch rise from a typical aluminum martin house door.
6) Gourds are porous, so they have areas
that harbor parasites.
Sure they do! So do the feathers of the martin itself! And, so do the crevices
and crannies in between all those pieces of aluminum! Martin parasites are
small and numerous. They live on the bird and their breeding cycle coincides
with that of the martin. So, just when young birds hatch, so do the baby mites,
lice, and fleas. Do you really think tiny parasites and their eggs completely
disappear in an aluminum house? If proper neat cleanouts are performed routinely
or with the use of an artificial nest, parasites will be reduced to a minimum,
in both gourd and aluminum houses alike.
7) Gourds get too hot. Aluminum stays cool.
One hundred degrees is 100 ° no matter where you are!! Aluminum is a good conductor
of heat. That is why cookware is made out of aluminum. In that kind of heat,
what difference does it make? A good thick gourd has insulating qualities,
plus, being painted white, it reflects a good portion of heat. With the added
PVC ventilation port, and being larger that 6" square, you can bet the
air circulation is better in a gourd than the standard aluminum house. Those
holes in various parts of an aluminum house offer ventilation, but, how much
does it circulate evenly? Do the top floors get hotter than the lower ones?
The roof and roof attic are not insulated. So, how much heat do these houses
really deflect or absorb? I do not know the answer to that, do you? Plus, consider
that you have the combined body heat of many nestlings radiating out to each
other. A martins temperature is higher than 100°. Adding that to the
comfort factor, I think I'd jump too!
8) Gourds offer no deterrence to European
Starlings and House Sparrows.
Not true! The swaying action of gourds tends to discourage starling
and sparrow useage. Notice that I said tends. If gourds are used
in conjunction with aluminum
housing, House Sparrows and starlings will go in the house most of the time.
They will take the house, given the choice. Studies from the PMCA have proved
this. In five years of providing martin housing, I have never had one single
starling or House Sparrow attempt to nest in a gourd. I wish I could not say
that about aluminum housing. On the other hand, I have seen both species nest
in gourds elsewhere, but only on occasion. I have also seen both species readily
nest in shiny 6" starling-resistant aluminum houses. One good thing about
aluminum housing though, there are sparrow traps available that attach to the
compartments for sparrow removal.
the starlings! They are definitely a more worthy opponent.
Starlings do not like aluminum housing! Hogwash!
Some would want you to believe starlings do not like shiny aluminum
compartments, so they do not nest in them. True, they will not
nest in them, but, it is because they require a cavity larger
than a 6" cube. They do not care if you make a 17" compartment
out of mirrors, starlings will move right in. That 6" cube
may prevent most of them from nesting, but it does not stop them
from going inside and wreaking havoc. Starlings going in a martin
house in the middle of the nesting season does not have good
intentions. He is performing his own version of genocide, destroying
martin eggs, pecking nestlings to death, and even killing the
defending parents. What to do? Starling-resistant holes. You
can easily put them on your gourds--half-moon or slotted hole
shapes. Gourd landlords do. And, yes, martins use them and starlings
do not usually get in them. If this is good for martins, why
don't the main metal martin house manufacturers develop such
a house, or at least, doors to eliminate the starling threat
forever! We all know the answer to that question!
God Bless America!!
As for sparrow control with gourds, there is, thus far, no manufactured trap
available. I am sure that will change soon. There are ways to remove them,
but that is a subject for another day.
The use of a modern gourd system offers the same advantages of aluminum housing,
especially it used together. Think of this, every martin entering the continental
United States from the Gulf of Mexico makes landfall in the southern states.
Here, gourds have been used traditionally since Native Americans used them
several hundred years ago. Doesn't it stand to reason that most martins have
seen, if not roosted, one night in a gourd on its long journey north?
Do not tell me they don't recognize this as a nesting cavity. There are many
landlords that tried attracting martins for years with aluminum housing with
no success. I should know. I have tried aluminum houses but they brought me
nothing but sad, lonely springs, year often year. Two of my colleagues at the
PMS also had no luck until they updated their current aluminum housing with
down right discouraging when someone with a high-profile in
the martin interest uses their influence
to discredit something that could benefit both martins and landlords--and
worse yet, at the same time they are doing this, they promote
his products to these same hapless people. The reason people
provide housing for Purple Martins should be for the martins benefit--to
allow them to flourish and remain off the endangered species
list." Gourds also have a place in this high goal. If they
are properly prepared and maintained in a modern system, there
is no reason why they should not be part of the goal. They come
Gourds! Grow them! Get them! Use them!
In conclusion, it seems to me that birds, coming
from nature would much prefer to build their homes to rear their
young in something that has also come from nature, not something
that has come from a machine shop!
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