Bird Friendly Coffee

Where and how your coffee beans were grown affects bird habitats.

Endangered Wooden Thrush because of coffee farmingWood Thrush-an endangered bird

Do you drink bird-friendly coffee?  For over 100 years the traditional method of farming coffee was in full and partial shade. The Dutch brought coffee to the New World in the 1700s as a forest-floor grown crop under a thick overhead forest canopy, the customary way of farming coffee beans.  With the Starbucks boom era of coffee obsession, the forests were cleared to create full sun farming for a higher yield, less management and larger profits.  There are currently 400 million cups of coffee drunk daily in America alone.  Those coffee-loving souls are probably unaware how their caffeine habits are impacting tropical bird populations.  I certainly didn’t know.

bird-friendly coffee forest

The Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources in Nicaragua maps of forest loss show the extreme level of deforestation in the recent past, and for the coming decades.

Currently less than 40% of coffee farms remain full or partial shade and are organic.  For migratory birds and local wildlife this has resulted in habitat loss.  Migratory songbirds are in an alarming decline, some populations decreasing as much as 50% over the past 50 years.  The National Geographic top image for this article is of a scarlet-thighed dacnis, one of many birds in Costa Rica adversely affected by the loss of tropical forest to coffee plantations.

The University of Utah conducted a twelve-year study of 57,255 individually banded birds, representing 265 species at 19 Costa Rica sites. Tropical birds and bird diversity have been a key indicator of environmental health, and their habitats are rapidly changing.  The researchers compared the birds living on coffee plantations in open land with those living in the remaining forested areas. The findings were published last spring and the researchers are hoping that coffee drinkers will pay attention.

The results of the study show that even a small increase in tree cover on the coffee plantations, (7 to 13%) can significantly help the birds that are in ‘species decline’.  The biologist who ran the study, Cagan Sekercioglu, recommends that coffee drinkers buy coffee that comes from Ethiopia or Kenya, countries that still employ the use of shade grown coffee beans.  Mexican coffee also has a high percentage of shade-grown beans. He feels the best and least expensive solution is to buy coffee from the Smithsonian’s Migratory Bird Center’s Bird Friendly Coffee program.

Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center’s Bird Friendly® Coffee Program Protects Migratory Birds and Supports Shade-Grown Coffee Farms.

Friendly Birds and Beans Coffee

Birds & Beans Coffee was recommended to me by a friend and I wanted to learn about the problem that motivated the group behind Birds & Beans to launch their coffee brand.

It is shade-grown organic coffee with the mission of preserving over 100,000 acres of prime tropical habitat. In their words, their goal is “to revitalize the Smithsonian Bird Friendly® shade-grown organic coffee certification and bring a truly ‘good coffee’ back into the United States. The Smithsonian Bird Friendly® certification is independently considered the best guarantee of environmentally sound, sustainably grown coffee farming.” Birds & Beans Coffee.

Where to buy Bird Friendly Coffee

Audubon’s guide to bird friendly coffee

Watch a documentary, The Messenger, about ‘human-made perils that have devastated thrushes, warblers, orioles, tanagers, grosbeaks and many other airborne music-makers”. On Netflix.

Header graphic from National Geographic