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HOW TO SAVE BIRDS

CHOOSE BIRD-FRIENDLY COFFEE

The main reason for the decline in bird populations is habitat loss. For migrants like wood warblers, cuckoos, and vireos, that loss happens in both their summer and winter ranges.

In Central America, coffee is the culprit because of its impact on habitat. Coffee cultivation alone has led to 2.5 million acres of forest destruction. Worldwide, 75 percent of coffee is grown in ways that harm wildlife, vegetation, and climate. 

This is a problem we can solve—and still enjoy a good cup.

A bright Scarlet Tanager in a green woodland setting.
The stunning Scarlet Tanager faces the challenge of fragmented habit—in both New England and Central America. But they bounced back once before when New England farming declined.
A Golden-winged Warbler in morning light
Golden-winged Warblers, once common in Massachusetts, are now rarely seen. Coffee is a major factor in their decline.
A Yellow-billed Cuckoo in a tree
The once common Yellow-billed Cuckoo will eat 100 tent caterpillars in a single meal. They also feats on Fall webworms and the larvae of spongy (formerly gypsy), brown-tailed, and white-marked tussock moths.
A Hood warbler on a stump against a green blurry background
Hooded Warblers are shy and secretive. They hide in the understory foraging for small insects and larvae.

Fact: if every US birder switched to drinking coffee grown in ways that protect bird habitat rather than destroy it, just three times a week, the impact would be enormous and immediate. Economic levers like this are often the most powerful and fastest way to create change, but they require building awareness, making noise, and millions of individual choices.

If we make a different choice and choose bird-friendly coffee, the incentive to protect critical habitat in some of the most sensitive and valuable ecosystems in the world would rapidly increase. Add to this, greater stability and economic prosperity for small farmers—coffee is one of the top five most valuable commodities traded by developing nations. In many parts of the world, coffee is still grown on family farms—providing income and jobs to more than 100 million people. 

What is Bird-Friendly Coffee?

Certified Bird-Friendly coffee is shade-grown coffee, grown sustainably under tree canopy without chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Shade-grown coffee farming isn’t something new. It’s how is how coffee grows naturally—and how most of the world’s coffee was grown until the 1970s when industrialized farming took over. What’s much less natural is the large-scale, high-impact,  monoculture farming of certain species of coffee in full sun that focuses on yield. That approach destroys habitat as well as valuable farmland, demands the use of fertilizer and pesticides, and wastes massive amounts of water. Long-term, industrialized coffee farming is not sustainable without pesticides, more water, and fertilzer.

Shade-grown coffee farms also practice “polyculture” farming—mixing fruit trees and other trees for shade and pollination while coffee plants grow in the understory. This kind of farming needs little or no fertilizer or pesticides, preserves more moisture in the air and the ground, stabilizes and moderates temperature, which makes for better-tasting coffee, stores more carbon, and provides a healthy habitat for hundreds of species from fungi to insects to reptiles as well birds.

Studies consistently show that birds alone consume more than 80% of insects that would otherwise be damaging to coffee plants. Other predators do the additional work.

Shade-grown bird-friendly coffees are also organic, delicious, and economically beneficial to small farmers. These certified coffee plantations provide winter habitat for more than 42 species of North American songbirds, including everyone’s favorite warblers, which also help check popularions of destructive insects and caterpillars in North American forests.

Every cup you drink helps small farmers be more successful and protect a little more habitat.

WHAT THE LABELS MEAN

Click on the logos for more detail.

Beans sourced directly from small-scale farmers who were paid a fair price.

Large coffee plantations can grow the beans, but have to meet standards that protect workers from unsafe working conditions and pay local minimum wage.
USDA certification that organic foods are grown and processed according to federal guidelines for soil quality, pest and weed control, and use of additives.

Not required to be organic. Lacks transparency. See this article.

Coffee is organic and grown in  mammer  that actively protects biodiversity, water and native trees. Certified by independent 3rd party. Science-based. 

Certified Good For Birds

The Smithsonian Bird Friendly Certification is generally regarded as the gold standard and by far the most stringent. Growers that meet these standards for sustainability are eligible to receive the Bird-Friendly certification. This program takes an ecological approach at the intersection of habitat ecology and sustainable small farms. The Smithsonian is now working on chocolate and expanding certifications worldwide.

Look for the Bird-Friendly seal on the coffee you purchase. Many Bird-Friendly certified coffees are also Fair-Trade certified. 

AMERICAN COFFEE HABITS

Americans drink a lot of coffee and right now American coffee habits are a big part of the problem. Why we don’t drink as much per person as the Finns, we drink the most by far as a nation. (LINK).

  • 3-4 drink coffee every day (74%)
  • 49% drink 3 to 5 cups/day
  • 32% purchase coffee from a shop 1-3 days/week.

    Unfortunately, most of the coffeeshop coffee we drink is grown in grown in ways that are harmful to habitat and climate. But if 45 million birders were to ask consistently for a bird-friendly choice, retaiilers would notice. Food is an industry that is extremely sensitive to consumer preferences.

DOEs It Matter what you drink? Why, Yes. Yes, it does.

A 2021 Cornell/Virginia Tech study revealed that less than 40 percent of birders understand what shade coffee is and that only 9 percent have purchased it.  

“We know birdwatchers benefit from having healthy, diverse populations of birds, and they tend to be conservation-minded folks,” said Ashley Dayer, assistant professor in Virginia Tech’s Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation. “We need to mobilize the estimated 45 million U.S. bird enthusiasts to help limit bird population declines. One way to do that is to encourage birdwatchers to seek out and purchase bird-friendly coffee, in stores and online.” 

Not surprisingly, people are confused about the terms organic, shade-grown, fair-trade, rainforest friendly, and other labels.

The good thing is that you don’t need to. The Bird-Friendly certification is usually all you need to look for to know that your choice will have a positive impact—many Bird-Friendly Coffees are also certified Fair Trade.

Progress depends on a global and intersectional approach where we look beyond our own backyards. Coffee is good for you. Let’s make it good for birds, too. 

SELECTED RESOURCES

As you explore the internet for articles about coffee, be aware that coffee is one of the world’s most valuable crops, rooted in colonial history, with an incredibly complex commodity chain involving many players who stand to make a profit. A great deal of the content you may encounter may be misleading.

PHOTOS:  Getty Images

HOW TO GO BIRD FRIENDLY

A few suggestions from our team…

ORDER DELICIOUS BIRD FRIENDLY COFFEE ONLINE

Try Your SUPERMARKET

Wegman’s has one store-brand Smithsonian Bird- Friendly Guatemalan coffee that is bright and delicious. They also carry several Rainforest Alliance-certified blends.

The Whole Foods Allegro branded Early Bird—is a rich Smithsonian Bird-Friendly coffee. They also offer several Rainforest Alliance-certified blends.

Star Market does not offer a house brand that is bird-friendly, but they do sometimes carry the luscious Peets Coffee Organic Yosemite Dos Sierras, which is Bird-Friendly Smithsonian certified.

Stop & Shop does not list any Bird-Friendly options on their website.

Honorable Mention

Tiny Footprint Coffee is a carbon-negative roaster that sources shade-grown organic coffee from very small family farms around the world that are not certified due to the size of their operation.
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