Every year hundreds of species of migratory birds. Including Goldfinches, Hummingbirds, and Orioles, fly away from the cold winter climate of North America to the warm tropical climates available in Mexico, Central, and South America.
Really who can blame them? It’s nippy up here in the winter and many of the food sources necessary for a thriving bird population just aren’t available in the dead of winter. So every year, around 350 species of migratory bird heads south in order to keep themselves fed through the winter.
This is an interesting topic, but what, (I hear you wondering in my imagination) does any of this have to do with my choice of coffee? Coffee has become something that many of us can’t imagine doing without, the U.S. alone consumes around 400 million cups per day. That’s a whole lot of coffee!
Not all coffee is created equally though. I’m sure most of you have already heard of the “organic” label on many of your favorite foods, coffee included, but did you know about labels like “shade-grown” and “bird-friendly”? I’ll explain more below, and we’ll find out what these labels mean for the winter homes of some of our favorite songbirds.
The Organic Label
Most of us have probably heard of the “organic” label, it means that the food you’re buying complies with organic farming standards, which means limiting pesticides and chemical fertilizers while maintaining biodiversity in the surrounding environment.
The most important part of the organic label, when it comes to birds, is the fact that it limits the use of pesticides. Insects make up a substantial portion of many birds’ diets. In other words, limiting pesticide use means more food for birds!
If you are concerned about the habitats of birds, buying coffee with an organic label is a good step, especially if you don’t have access to some of the brands of coffee that boast “shade-grown” and “bird-friendly” labels on their packaging.
So what’s the deal with Shade Grown coffee?
For a long time, shade grown coffee was the best you could find if you were concerned about the destruction of migratory bird habitats. So why is shade grown so important?
Coffee grown in Central or South America has traditionally been grown under a canopy of native trees. These trees provide everything a migratory bird could ask for, food, shelter, and plenty of tree branches for nest building. However, in the 1980’s and 90’s, coffee farmers were encouraged to start cutting down the canopy of trees that grew over most coffee.
Although coffee bushes do produce more berries when they are grown under full sun, the reason farmers were encouraged to cut down trees weren’t simply to ramp up production. Many coffee plants were being threatened at this point by an aggressive fungal disease that was becoming a danger to all coffee production in Central and South America. It was believed that exposing the plants to full sun would help prevent the disease from spreading.
This trend ended up having unexpected consequences to the migratory bird population. With the tree cover torn down, there isn’t enough food and shelter to go around. Some estimates claim that the migratory bird population is declining at a rate of around 3% or more every year, partially due to the fact that there wintering over spots are being deforested.
Buying Shade Grown coffee means that your supporting farms that grow their coffee under a canopy of trees, making it a much healthier habitat for all of these birds who have flown down for the winter!
If Shade Grown is so great, why do we need Bird Friendly?
The “Bird-Friendly” label was created by The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center as a way to label coffee that took the conservation of bird habitats to the next level of awesomeness!
Like the Shade Grown label, Bird Friendly means that the farms producing the coffee are 100% organic and grown under the shade of a diverse set of trees and shrubs. The problem with this, surprisingly enough, came from too much diversity in the surrounding forest.
When coffee found that it was beneficial to return to traditional shade-grown coffee methods, they took the opportunity to plant trees that would be useful to them by producing another sellable product like eucalyptus and mango trees.
Initially, this seemed like a winning scenario for farmers and birds. Unfortunately, by planting so many non-native plant varieties, all that was created was an environment that supported none of the seeds, fruit, or insect life that were a vital food source for many migratory bird species.
So, building on the work of the organic and shade grown labels that came before, the Bird-Friendly label represents the coffee that meets the very strictest standards for the conservation of neotropical migratory bird habitats. A Bird Safe label means that your coffee is 100% organic, free of pesticides, and grown under a shady canopy of native plant and tree species.
Until recently, almost half of bird extinctions were caused by the havoc wreaked by invasive species, with species that live solely on islands being the most vulnerable. However as more and more forests are cut down to make room for full-sun farming operations, conservationists are beginning to consider deforestation to be the next big reason for the continuing loss of various bird species.
Coffee faces a hard battle to become more ecologically sustainable for migratory birds. It’s always going to be easier to grow massive quantities of coffee in the full-sun, monoculture farms that are so devastating to bird populations.
There is a bright side though for people who are willing to search out coffee that carries a bird safe label. Shade grown coffee grows slower than it’s full-sun counterpart, and as we’ve learned from many fine wines, faster is not always better. The slow growth the coffee bean goes through in the shade leads to a richer, more complex flavor in the mature bean.
Coffee enthusiasts everywhere seem to appreciate the robust and layered flavor that comes from shade-grown coffee. In fact, I have yet to find a brand of coffee that was certified “bird-friendly” that hasn’t gotten rave reviews from the people who bought it.
In fact, I’m so curious about what people really think about bird-friendly coffee that I’m going to be writing a review of the best bird-friendly coffees I can find, so click here and check it out if you want to see for yourself!
What are your thoughts on Bird-Friendly coffee? Let me know in the comments!