2013 April Nature News – Bird-Friendly Food – Part 1


Coffee grows naturally under the canopy of other trees. Bird-friendly shade-grown coffee is a hot topic now, and articles abound in just about every sustainable/green/organic/bird-oriented magazine out there. Here are the high points:

  • Coffee not grown in the shade is referred to as “sun coffee.” It requires large amounts of cleared and stripped rain forest land, fertilizer and pesticides, and depletes tropical soils of nutrients. It is cheaper to grow. Farmers are paid less for their crop. It does not support migrant birds.
  • Shade-grown coffee grows under native canopy trees, bananas, and citrus trees. It is grown in harmony with tropical forest conservation. It can be more costly to grow because it is not mass-produced. The local farmers are paid a better price for the end product as an incentive.
  • About 200 different species of birds are known to migrate to Mexico, Central and South America. A few of the birds known to over-winter or migrate through shade-grown coffee plantations in Latin America include yellow warbler, Blackburnian warbler, American redstart, Wilson’s warbler, western tanager, sharp-shinned hawk, American kestrel, western kingbird, cliff swallow and Baltimore oriole. It is well documented that North American migrants are finding fewer suitable places to spend the winter.
  • Shade-grown coffee also provides ideal habitat, abundant food and cover for a large variety of mammals, reptiles, insects, flowers and native vegetation.
  • Read labels to ascertain if your coffee is environmentally sustainable with guarantees that the farm is truly bird-friendly and organic. Look for “Certified Rain Forest Alliance,” “Verified Rain Forest Alliance” or “Bird Friendly, Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center,” to name a few. For an overview of the different types of labels claiming to be “bird-friendly coffee,” read: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/roundrobin/2012/10/09/making-sense-of-coffee-labels-shade-grown-organic-fair-trade-bird-friendl/
  • Mexico, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Peru, Honduras, Bolivia, India and Ethiopia are more likely to grow coffee under shade, while Costa Rica, Brazil, and Colombia are more likely to grow sun coffee (Bird Watching Magazine – February 2013).

Remember, we live in a consumer-driven society. Yes, it may cost a little more to buy bird-friendly coffee, but otherwise birds will pay the price. Make your sustainable choices known by a letter to a local market and/or food producer or simply by what you buy; you can and will make a difference!

Next month, in Part 2, we will look at other bird-friendly land uses including native-grassland-fed beef to preserve environment critical for migrating and resident prairie birds.

Grazing on long prairie grasses

Grazing on long prairie grasses


Resources and additional reading:
Consumer Reports – greenerchoices.org

1 Comment

One Response to 2013 April Nature News – Bird-Friendly Food – Part 1

  1. Leah Vader says:

    Thanks Claudia! This is practical and inspiring information. Once again you eloquently illustrate the conscious and unconscious ways we are all in continual relationship with our natural world.

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