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Meet the Family Behind Fitler Square’s Iconic “Birdhouse” Home
Chris Dawson and Susan Harner are dedicated to keeping the legacy of the birdhouse collection alive. Susan’s mother, Mrs. Pat Harner, started it more than 20 years ago.
If you walk down 23rd Street in Fitler Square, it’s hard to miss the “birdhouse house.”
More than two dozen birdhouses sit on the side of the house, creating a spectacle for those who walk by on a regular basis.
Susan Harner, who owns the house along with her husband, said her mother Pat started the birdhouse collection in the late 1990s. When Susan inherited the house in 2019, the birdhouse collection was nearly two decades old.
It all began when birds began nesting in the trumpet vines on the corner of the house.
Harner’s mother Pat thought perhaps they would appreciate some houses.
“She put up a few and then people just started giving her birdhouses and it became a thing, and the neighborhood really loves it,” said Susan Harner.
“It sort of became this organic, living, growing work of art,” she continued.
A longtime gardener, Pat Harner was often outside the house gardening.
“Everybody loved the garden and how pretty the garden was. And it was important to her that people enjoyed it. Being outside gave her a chance to keep in touch with the neighbors,” she added.
“Everyone stops and comments on it; they bring kids groups by here, school groups by here. It’s universally loved by the neighborhood,” said Susan Harner.
“People often stop by taking photos,” Dawson added.
More than a decade ago, a Japanese film crew traveled to the neighborhood to produce a documentary about the birdhouses and the history behind them.
“It had international interest, as well, but really, it’s a neighborhood thing. The neighborhood just loves it,” said Harner.
When Harner and Dawson moved into the house in 2019, neighbors questioned whether the birdhouse collection would remain.
“People were concerned that it was going to go away … there was concern for the birds,” said Dawson.
However, they made sure to put those concerns to rest relatively quickly.
“We’ve put up a few new ones. There are some that are older and need some love and care, and so we’re trying to keep up with that,” Harner added.
Currently, there are 28 different birdhouses attached to the side of the house.
Two additions will soon showcase a more modernized look and feel.
“They’re more us,” said Harner of the new incoming birdhouses. “A lot of these are sort of standard, old school, exactly what you would think of when you picture a birdhouse … these are more modern.”