Vintage landscape: gourds and cans

Gourd and Can birdhouses, via Library of Congress“Typical birdhouses, gourds and tin cans in Coffee County, Alabama,” April 1939, by Marion Post Wolcott, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Hanging clusters of gourd birdhouses for the purpose of attracting purple martins is an Alabama folk tradition, according to the blog Appalachian History.

Choctaw and Chickasaw gardeners began the practice.  The purple* martins would eat damaging insects and mosquitoes and drive away crows and blackbirds from the corn.  

Farmers of European and African origins later adopted the custom, particularly as the birds also protect chickens by scaring away hawks.

The gourds should be hung in groups of 10 or more, according to the National Wildlife Federation’s blog.  They should also swing from crossbars and wires on poles at least two-stories high.


*They are actually dark blue and black, or pale grey.

8 thoughts on “Vintage landscape: gourds and cans

    1. I googled “using tin cans for purple martin houses” and couldn’t find any other examples. Maybe their gourd crop failed the previous year, and they decided to experiment.

      I never knew that purple martins are such useful birds.

    1. Well I guess two stories of an Alabama cabin.

      According to the National Wildlife Federation, you only want purple martins to nest in gourd birdhouses. They cannot be adequately “predator proofed” for other birds. So you want to hang them high and swinging (other kinds of birds don’t like the movement).

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