When the first European settlers arrived in what is now the Southeastern United States they found gourds (sometimes called calabashes) erected nearby many Native American villages. The gourds were hung near the encampments in an attempt to attract nesting purple martins. They knew nesting martins would vigorously defend their nest sites from any bird perceived to be a threat to their eggs or young. By so doing, the large swallows would inadvertently help keep crows, vultures, and hawks from stealing drying meat and hides hung near the gourds used as nest sites.
The new settlers were quick to adopt this practice and erected gourds and later manmade martin houses around their own homes.
The famous naturalist and painter John James Audubon noted in his journals that he could always tell the fineness of an inn’s accommodations by the quality of the martin housing provided by the tavern’s proprietor.