You can almost FEEL the excitement amongst the birdwatching crowd. Spring is coming and along with it the birds that have been out of our area for what seems like an eternity.
On listservs and blogs, and at Wild Birds Unlimited stores across the country, the stories of the return of our migratory birds are streaming in. In my area, Red-winged Blackbirds start the excitement, their arrival marking the true arrival of spring.
The excitement is palpable. The anticipation grows. "When do the hummingbirds arrive?" "How about Rose-breasted Grosbeaks?" "When can I put out oriole feeders?"
"They're not coming back"?
Seldom do we stop to think of these beloved birds during the winter months, when they are in tropical locations such as central and south America. We take for granted that the habitat and food they need is there for them; there so that they might return to our yards yet another spring.
Many of our neo-tropical migrants, including the three listed above, are known to utilize coffee plantations during their winters. Traditional coffee plantations, that is. Coffee grown on bushes that are shaded by extensive tree canopy. Tree canopies that support life.
Traditional coffee plantations, though, are giving way to massive sun-grown coffee fields. More than half of the traditional shade-grown coffee farms in Latin America have been converted to "sun-coffee" farms to increase production. (Source: Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center) More coffee - not necessarily better tasting coffee, but more coffee. And cheaper coffee. The trade-off? No tree canopy shading the crop = no tree canopy full of color and life and sound. No tree canopy full of birds.
Sun-grown coffee fields have other issues as well. They generally require more pesticides and other chemicals. They are more subject to soil erosion. The working conditions are often less than ideal. They compete with and edge out smaller and family-owned shade-grown coffee farms. And sun-grown coffee fields are devoid of birds and other wildlife.
In contrast, shade-grown coffee maintains the habitat that many of our migratory birds rely on. Shade-grown coffee farms are excellent homes for birds and other forest-dwelling wildlife.
What can you do to encourage shade-grown coffee growing to help the birds? Short and simple: Change your buying habits. Make sure your spending reflects your values and beliefs.
ASK for shade-grown coffee wherever you get your coffee. Make shade-grown coffee at home. Create a demand for it. Frequent those restaurants and retailers that carry shade-grown coffee. And look for CERTIFIED shade-grown coffee, like the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center "Bird Friendly™" certification. If you enjoy the birds and truly want to protect them, take a stand, take it now - ask for and drink only CERTIFIED shade-grown coffee.
Do it for the birds. Do it now. Don't wait until you hear, "They're not coming back."
- Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center
- Birds that use coffee plantations (Audubon)
- Coffee & Conservation Blog
- "When Birders Drink Folgers" from the Coffee & Conservation blog
- "Saving the Tropics One Sip at a Time", Cornell Lab of Ornithology Birdscope Winter 2009
- "The Facts on Bird Friendly Coffee", BirdWatchers Digest.com