Choosing Coffee That Supports Bird Conservation

Ah, coffee. Many of us can’t get through our day without a cup (or three). Coffee is one of the world’s most popular beverages, but our addiction to caffeine can come with a steep environmental price tag.

Most of the coffee we drink comes from plantations that destroy and clear native forest to grow coffee in full sun (called sun coffee). They also often use harmful chemicals like insecticides and synthetic fertilizers that are detrimental to the environment.

The best coffee growing regions of the world also overlap with some of the most biodiverse regions of the world (such as Latin America). When the native forest goes away to make room for sun coffee, so do the birds and other animals that rely on those forests.

Many of our migratory songbirds, which grace us with their presence for a few short months in the spring and summer, spend their winter in tropical areas where coffee is grown. In fact, many of them spend more time in their tropical wintering areas each year than they spend on their northern breeding grounds! But as their tropical winter habitat is lost and degraded, birds lose their winter homes. Scientists have pointed the finger at habitat loss on the wintering grounds as one culprit for widespread population declines in many birds.

Luckily, we can still enjoy our morning fix while also protecting the environment and the habitats birds need by making smart choices about the type of coffee we buy.

Shade-Grown Coffee and Migratory Birds

Migratory songbirds like this Blackburnian Warbler use shade coffee farms in winter. Photo: Mark Peck

Instead of being grown on cleared land like sun coffee, shade coffee is grown under a canopy of trees, which mimics a natural, forest-like system that provides habitat for local (and international) wildlife. As native forests are lost, shade coffee farms are one place that migratory birds can still find forest-like vegetation in their overwintering habitats.

A surprising diversity of migratory songbirds use shade coffee farms in the winter, including flycatchers, vireos, wrens, thrushes, warblers, and tanagers. Some studies on overwintering songbirds have found that these long-distance migrants are equally or even more abundant in shade coffee farms than natural forests! A recent study on Canada Warblers also found that birds overwintering in shade coffee farms were in equally good shape as birds overwintering in natural forests and were just as likely to survive the winter.

Bird Friendly Certified Coffee

Scientists at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center created the Bird Friendly certification for shade-grown coffee – a ‘gold standard’ when it comes to sustainable coffee. The Bird Friendly label means that the farm where the coffee was grown has met certain criteria to help support biodiversity, including the birds and other animals relying on the habitat. Certified Bird Friendly coffee is organically grown and coffee farms must also meet specifications on the height of the tree canopy, amount of vegetation cover, and diversity of plant species. The certification is based on decades of research on how to strike a balance between productive coffee farming and conserving habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife.

Benefits for Farmers

Besides being good for birds, certified Bird Friendly coffee is also good for farmers. Although the trade-off of growing shade coffee rather than sun coffee is lower yields, farmers can earn a premium for the higher-quality coffee beans grown on shade coffee farms. Farmers also often grow other foods or products (such as timber and fruit trees) of economic value in tandem with shade coffee, which provide them with additional income. Since certified Bird Friendly coffee is also organic, farmers work in a healthier, pesticide-free environment. And as a bonus, the birds overwintering on shade coffee farms also provide free pest control services!

Protecting Birds During the Winter… and During Migration

Choosing certified Bird Friendly coffee supports farmers who grow coffee in a sustainable way that lets biodiversity thrive and provides important habitat for overwintering birds.

But your Bird Friendly coffee can do even more! When you choose Café Le Nichoir’s Bird Friendly coffee with FLAP Canada’s logo, $1.50 from every purchase of a 342 g bag ($4.50 per 1 kg bag & $10 per 2.5 kg bag) is donated to FLAP. These proceeds support FLAP’s critical work in protecting birds from the deadly threat of window collisions during migration. In addition to being certified Bird Friendly, the coffee also meets Fairtrade standards, meaning the coffee farmers are treated and paid fairly.

Bird Friendly coffee that supports FLAP Canada

A simple switch to your morning cup of coffee can help protect the birds you love year-round and ensure birds make it home safely, wherever home is.