Things You Can Do

Coffee and Birds.... The Basic Facts

Believe it or not, you can save songbirds with every cup of coffee that you drink.

Older varieties of coffee (shade-grown coffee) are grown under the shade of trees in order to retain and nourish the soil and to moderate the heat and light reaching the plants. Coffee farms that will mimic forest conditions in Latin America and the Caribbean, actually are saving Neotropical migrant birds and are also a refuge for local resident birds. Depending on the species of shade trees and the structure of the tree cover, anywhere from a few to scores of resident and migratory bird species will rely on coffee farms for food and cover. Ornithologists have consistently documented the importance of shade-coffee habitat in the increasingly deforested landscape of the Neotropics.

The move to "technify" the coffee sector, however, begun in the 1970s and continuing today, involves replacing the traditional coffee varieties with newer hybrids, called sun-coffee, which have been developed for sun tolerance (without shade) and compact growth, therefore yielding more coffee per bush and per hectare. The flip-side is that more chemical inputs - fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides - are needed with sun-coffee than with traditional shade cultivation, and, of course, the land is denuded of tree cover.

Here are some practical things activities for birders, ornithologists, and wildlife conservationists, things we can all do to promote the cause of shade coffee, focus on important coffee concerns, and save birds:

  • Learn about the issues: shade coffee vs. sun coffee, certification, organic, fair-traded, sustainable. Becoming an educated consumer is the first priority. Most consumers - and that includes birders and conservationists - will make responsible decisions when they are informed.
  • Raise the shade-grown coffee issue among your local birding friends and organizations, whether at a bird club meeting, IMBD, or a birding festival.
  • Seek out and buy shade-grown coffee for home and work. If your local retailers and specialty stores do not carry shade-grown coffee, ask that they do.
  • Ask for shade-grown coffee when you are at restaurants and espresso stands.
  • Support organizations that work on these important coffee issues.
  • Make sure that the issue of shade-grown coffee is presented in your state and local bird publications.
  • Start a coffee campaign network in your area to reach stores and the general media about the importance of shade-grown, songbird-safe coffee.

Coffee Lessons (PDF file, 142KB)
Article from Bird Watcher's Digest by Paul J. Baicich