Birds Chirping for Generations in Forest Hills

Visits: 0

Residents Aiding Birds & Encouraging Diversity An Inside Look with Birder Rose Chin-Wolner

Red-bellied woodpecker, Photo by Rose Chin-Wolner

Forest Hills harbors a rich history of birds. Restore the “forest” factor while engaging in activities, and bird species are bound to be on the rise. Residents are supportive of reintroducing features such as traditional fountains, birdbaths, birdhouses, as well as planting additional trees of diverse species to benefit birds and the public. Community organizations can also be launched to promote the study, appreciation, and vitality of birds. 

In front of Ivy Day School III at 104-70 Queens Boulevard stands a Ginkgo tree, where residents were surprised to encounter a very creative and colorful birdhouse, suspended on a limb. It was designed by students in a second home that describes itself as “a place of books and blocks, music and dance, art and creativity, smiles and hugs, and an abundance of good conversation.” A curriculum that encompasses a hands-on approach for nature, will encourage toddlers to pre-Kindergarteners to become environmental stewards. 

Residents were also delighted to find a family of uniquely designed birdhouses suspended on a tree adjacent to The Greenbriar at 68-61 Yellowstone Boulevard. It inspired Stacey Lynn, a P.S. 54 Hillside School teacher, to share her encounter on social media. As a lover of art and education, she said, “I was stopped in my tracks once I noticed the beauty of an abundance of birdhouses hanging from my neighborhood tree. Being an elementary school teacher, I am always thinking of our younger generation. It was obvious the houses were homemade with love. I can only imagine the creative minds behind their beauty, and all that they symbolize.”


Birdhouses convey a more in-depth message. “I see new beginnings, as in a calling for peace and harmony, and a love note to mother nature, reminding me that there is still hope and beauty in the world, and we will support her,” continued Lynn. She advises fellow residents that if they can be anything, be analogous to a birdcage, and questions society, “Are we protecting our wildlife and welcoming it, or have we become numb from what the world around us has become?” 

The historic Georgian Colonial garden-style apartments, The Grover Cleveland at 67-38 108th Street and The George Washington at 67-66 108th Street, feature birdbaths topped off by cherubs in their front courtyard. The award-winning partnership of architect Philip Birnbaum and builder Alfred Kaskel was not only known for unique architectural achievements, but gardens with sculptures, birdbaths, fountains, and a careful selection of trees, where birds, recreation, and an overall elevated sense of living were a priority. Numerous garden-style buildings line 108thStreet and Yellowstone Boulevard, including their presidential series, and several feature lobbies with picture windows overlooking inner gardens with sunken ponds. 

The modern eye is unacquainted with some sites. In Forest Hills Gardens, alongside the Tea Garden’s ornate gateway on Greenway Terrace, is a decommissioned mosaic birdbath, built into the base of a stone gazebo. However, one would need to peek behind shrubbery to notice it. Stepping into the Tea Garden, a decommissioned brick tiered fountain can be spotted, but it also awaits restoration. 

Upon viewing a postcard and photo of the Fountain of Piping Pan, which vanished decades ago at the one-acre Olivia Park alongside Markwood Road in Forest Hills Gardens, some enthusiasts are scratching their heads. “Those rocks with that stream and a sculpture looked outstanding,” said Kew Gardens Hills resident Rhoda Dubin, whose major in psychology enables her to view her surroundings in a renewed light. “Such beautiful things are not only tranquil as we are looking at it and feeding birds, but it is proven to lower blood pressure. It also releases endorphins in our brain, which are known as feel-good hormones, similar to exercising.”

She is hoping the Forest Hills Gardens Corporation and residents will collaborate to replicate it. “There is nothing like taking a walk and looking at beautiful creations that have existed in our area for decades, and also due to their calming effect, it is important to bring them back. Maybe when homeowners learn about its existence, they will realize how important restoring nature is.” 

In 1915, The Sun published, “The presiding genius of the fountain is a small boy in plaster playing a pipe, and the water tumbles over the stones at his feet down into a miniature lake, where the birds may disport themselves as in one of nature’s own sylvan retreats.” In response to The Bird Club of Long Island, which formed that summer to safeguard bird life, the publication stated, “From Brooklyn to Montauk Point, branch clubs are being formed, bird refuges and sanctuaries are being created, and other steps are being taken to make the bird population multiply, and the insect horde decrease.” The membership numbered 300 and spanned 40 communities. 


On July 4, 1915, with the local chapter of the Audubon Society on site, the bird fountain designed by Underwood Road resident Beatrix Forbes-Robinson Hale and presented by the Russell Sage Homes Company, was dedicated to Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage, who was praised for her passion for birds. As a case in point, she purchased Marsh Island to transform it into a bird sanctuary. Additionally, part of her acclaim was her establishment of the Russell Sage Foundation, which sought to improve the social and living conditions in the U.S. The park was originally named in her honor, and her vision was realized as it served as a natural amphitheatre due to its sloping topography and acoustics.   

In 1914, the Audubon Society of Forest Hills Gardens was founded, with a mission of safeguarding birds, attracting them to homeowners, encouraging close companionship, and filling lawns and gardens with song and beauty. A June 30, 1917 edition of Forest Hills Gardens Bulletin read, “It has been emphasized that trees and shrubbery near the house form recesses for the birds, in which they feel safe and to which they gladly come; that opportunities to bathe and drink are irresistible to birds and largely increase in their number in any given neighborhood, and that during the winter or early spring while snow covers the ground, regular feeding places will save many lives. With this in view, shelter, water and food have been provided.” 

Historically, as a result of the society and community’s dedication for three years, birds that searched for seeds and insects on the ground included thrushes, wrens, warblers, and sparrows which were native to the land. Birds in search of food in trees dug out insects or dislodged them from cracks, and included woodpeckers, nuthatches, and creepers. The warbler family, which represented America’s most distinctive, twenty species could be found. The publication read, “Only of birds seeking insects on the wing, such as swallows, martins, swifts, nighthawks, there is still a dearth, and we must look for the future to establish them permanently in Forest Hills. Otherwise almost every family of birds is now represented, and this achievement, compared with conditions existing at the beginning of our work, cannot be underestimated.” 

The publication advised every community member to play a role by raising plants whose seeds are attractive to birds, to not only assist them, but vegetable gardens. It read, “Sunflowers planted in lines among rows of vegetables, wild sarsaparilla, and pokeberry along boundary walls, buckwheat and Japanese millet in some corner of your field, will prove a great attraction.” 

Come into the world of Rose Chin-Wolner, an over 30-year Forest Hills Gardens resident, who began birding in 2021 and sharing her inspiring bird photography in the Facebook group, Forest Hills, Rego Park, Kew Gardens – “Our Communities.” She reminisced, “I was quarantined at home, and noticed cardinals and blue jays on trees outside my window. My daughter suggested that I coat a pinecone with peanut butter and bird food, and place it on the ledge. Then I spotted titmice and nuthatches partaking in the treat.” After using a smartphone, she decided to invest in a quality Canon camera, as per local nature photographer Michael Fusco’s suggestion. 

Corvidae blue jay, Photo by Rose Chin-Wolner

In Forest Hills Gardens, she discovered cardinals, blue jays, red-bellied and downy woodpeckers, house finches, red-winged blackbirds, titmice, nuthatches, common grackles, Baltimore orioles, European starlings, and kinglets, in addition to the usual mourning doves, pigeons, American Robins and common house sparrows. “It is difficult to gauge how many species there are, as certain species may skip a season. It is also not uncommon to sight a hawk or two,” said Chin-Wolner. She envisions the strategic placement of birdhouses in the Gardens, and said, “If they are maintained, then perhaps it will attract new bird species.”

In Forest Park, she spots yellow-bellied sapsuckers, northern flickers, great horned owls, various warblers and hawks. “Long Island birding exposed me to rare sightings, such as the calliope hummingbird and a roseate spoonbill that is uncommon in the northeast,” she said. Her favorite species is any bird that is atypically seen daily or weekly. 

Northern cardinal, Photo by Rose Chin-Wolner

Chin-Wolner seeks to photograph birds in flight, birds with food in their beaks, or two species interacting. She is especially passionate about any bird that is colorful, such as male cardinals, male finches, blue jays, and the male red-bellied woodpecker with its red head. She explained, “It is of great interest if there is a house that has a bird feeder visible from the sidewalk, but I am discreet to not invade a resident’s privacy.” 

“Did you know that the blue jays can exhibit about seven different calls?” asked Chin-Wolner, who has made many discoveries since her birding adventures began. “I have learned about the songs or calls of certain birds, and identify them by sound. The blue jay is not as aggressive as rumored, and certain birds are selective about what they eat. Cardinals love sunflower seeds, whereas blue jays enjoy whole peanuts (shell and all), and woodpeckers are big fans of suet.”

One may wonder about techniques to photograph birds in great focus and context. She explained, “It is simply to be patient and click when the moment is right. Not all birds will sit for a photo-shoot. It’s best to feature a bird in its natural habitat; on a branch, creeping up a tree, or squawking with its beak. I know photographers who shoot 1,000+ photos of the same bird, only to post six or eight online.” 

Chin-Wolner is a Queens County Bird Club member, and in cooperation with the Parks Department, proudly volunteers to fill the feeders at the Forest Park bird trail, which is maintained by a volunteer team daily. “We are astute as to what to fill the feeders with, and discourage people from bringing any outside food that may be detrimental to birds, such as bread, rice, or pretzels,” she said. Bird enthusiasts can also look into joining the Manhattan, Long Island and North Shore birding groups. Several groups conduct meetings and issue rare species alerts.

Chin-Wolner is grateful for her small exhibition with the Arts and Crafts Chapter of the Women’s Club of Forest Hills, which featured four of her bird photos among other contributors’ paintings and sculptures. “Birding introduced me to a wonderful network of birders and photographers, and many became close friends,” she said. 

Enthusiasts can also cultivate their green thumb with native plants, so the birds can chirp for generations. The long list includes dogwood, white oak, American beech, redbud, rhododendron, willows, red maple, rosa, prunus, juniper, and elderberry. 

The long-vanished Fountain of Piping Pan, Olivia Park circa 1915, Courtesy of Michael Perlman

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow by Email