Your Coffee and Birds

October 25th, 2022 by georgann

Shade Grown CoffeeAnd Birds  

It’s nearly winter and the crayon-colored leaves have given up their holdings and lie in neatly composed piles.  Some have been forced into compulsive brown bags to sit waiting at your curb, others offered to the compost pile.   Cold weather turnips, cabbages, and pansies replace frost-bitten lettuce and drooping impatiens in your yard.  It’s a resting time for most of our gardens; a time to re-group and re-energize. 

As you sit back with your thoughts during the winter, many of you will be enjoying a favorite cup of coffee.

If you knew that your choice of coffee saves birds’ lives, would you choose differently?  Would you drink coffee grown in Central America where small birds that flitted their way through your garden during the summer are now trying desperately to survive the winter?

With natural forested habitats being destroyed in South, Central and Latin America, our nesting warblers, orioles, flycatchers, tanagers, thrushes, and vireos are seeking winter habitats in tropical forests often among coffee trees that produce your cup of coffee.  Most of the birds are in the canopy of the native trees that shade the coffee trees; only 10% of the birds are actually using the coffee tree itself. 

However, in the past twenty years, coffee has begun to be grown in full sun with no shade canopy.  Not surprisingly, the diversity of migratory birds plummets in a monoculture of sun-grown coffee trees.  Large coffee roasting companies have converted to sun-grown coffee plantations for higher production at the expense of the small family shade-grown coffee farms.  When we unknowingly buy sun-grown coffee, we are putting pressure on the small family coffee-growers to sell their land and, at the same time, reducing the best habitat for birds.

Shade coffee plantations produce flowers, fruits, and seeds and support over 150 species of birds including neotropical migrants and residents species.  Shade trees protect the understory coffee plants from rain and sun, help maintain soil quality, reduce the need for weeding and herbicides, and aid in controlling pests that harm the coffee trees.  In many cases, shaded coffee plantations are the last refuge for forest-adapted birds, insects, amphibians and orchids.

The fate of these birds may rest in your choice of coffee.  Would you buy coffee that is shade-grown and is more bird-friendly?  Or will you dig in your gardens next spring and walk in our forests next summer knowing that, back in the winter, millions of migratory songbirds couldn’t re-group and re-organize in sun-grown coffee plantations that support your coffee habit?

Where can you buy shade-grown coffee?  An increasing number of importers/coffee roasting companies are marketing organically grown shade coffees.  The Rainforest Alliance is taking the lead in developing an “ECO-O.K.” certifications program for coffee, bananas, cacao, oranges, and other tropical products.  Only coffee certified as ECO-O.K. is truly shade grown and bird-friendly.  Below are listed some of the coffee importers/roasters who offer certified organic coffee.  Some of them even contribute a portion of their profits to wildlife habitat conservation.  Encourage your local stores such as Starbuck’s or Barney’s to buy shade-grown coffee.

Birding Adventures, Inc.

Georgann Schmalz


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