The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center created the Bird Friendly® program as a way to incentivize coffee farmers to grow beans more ethically and sustainably without destroying bird habitats.
It raises awareness of the threat that industrial agriculture poses to biodiversity and gives coffee consumers the tools to be more discerning about which beans they buy.
What are some coffee brands considered bird friendly?
Ampersand Coffee Roasters, Birds & Beans, Caffe Ibis Coffee Roasting Company, Café Fair by Steep & Brew, Tomorrow’s Coffee, Gold Country Roasters, Thanksgiving Coffee Company, Red Start Roasters, and Wood Warbler Coffee are all Bird Friendly® brands.
What is Bird Friendly Coffee?
Conservation scientists at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center developed the Bird Friendly® certification as the most stringent criteria for coffee agriculture.
Producers must meet a strict set of requirements for their coffee to carry the Bird Friendly® seal of approval.
In this way, consumers can guarantee that the coffee they buy has been grown in a way that supports and promotes the protection of bird habitats.
What is considered bird friendly coffee?
Bird Friendly coffee is grown in an environmentally sustainable way that supports biodiversity conservation.
Coffee farmers must meet the following strict criteria for their beans to carry the Bird Friendly® seal:
- The farm must have organic certification that strictly prohibits the use of fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides.
- Coffee must be shade-grown in a forest with at least 40% canopy foliage cover.
- Agroforestry practices must be followed to provide a safe habitat for a diversity of bird species.
How to Choose Bird Friendly Coffee
When buying coffee in a store, look for coffee that is stamped with the black and white Bird Friendly® seal or the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal that has a green frog symbol.
Like Bird Friendly®, Rainforest Alliance only gives their certification to farms that produce shade-grown coffee without compromising any natural habitat.
If you cannot find a coffee brand that carries these seals, look for beans that are certified organic. This will guarantee that the coffee is produced without the use of industrial fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides.
These agricultural chemicals degrade the forest ecosystem and kill indigenous species that birds rely on.
However, the organic certification has no requirements for canopy shade cover, forest height, or biodiversity.
The coffee may still be grown in a monoculture under non-indigenous trees, like bananas or macadamias.
Buy coffee that is shade-grown over sun-grown. While there is no regulating body that issues this designation, shade-grown beans are grown under some type of forest canopy, which is better for birds.
Certified shade-grown coffee makes up a very small percentage of the market. Globally, only 1% is Bird Friendly®, and 5.6% is Rainforest Alliance certified.
Therefore, it can be very difficult for the average caffeine consumer to find sustainable coffee. A convenient option is to purchase Bird Friendly® online.
There are almost 150 different coffee brands available online that are certified Bird Friendly®.
This represents more than 35 000 acres of shade-grown, sustainable coffee plantations, from the Americas, to Ethiopia, all the way to Thailand.
How Coffee is Farmed
Traditionally, coffee is grown as an understory shrub, shaded by a diverse range of large, indigenous rainforest tree species.
Many of the indigenous trees that coffee grows alongside produce fruits and berries that are a vital source of food for many bird species.
As the demand for coffee increased around the world, farmers looked for ways to maximize their coffee production. By growing coffee bushes in full sun, they grow much faster and produce more berries.
Planting the coffee in rows makes it easier to harvest and removing native vegetation around the coffee shrubs ensures that all the water and nutrients in the soil go to the coffee. This is called monoculture.
The vast majority of coffee around the world is farmed using high-intensity, full-sun row monoculture. The top two coffee-producing countries, Brazil, and Vietnam, mainly export this type of coffee.
Fortunately, other big coffee-producing countries, like India, Peru, and Ecuador, mostly grow their exported coffee under a forested canopy.
The Problem of Industrial Agriculture
What makes monoculture so detrimental to ecosystem biodiversity is that vast areas of indigenous forest must be cleared to make space for this type of agriculture.
Over 2.5 million acres of Central American forest have been destroyed for sun-grown coffee. Birds, and all the other organisms that depend on the forest for survival, lose their habitat.
Not only are forests cleared, but to maintain a monoculture crop, farmers must spray a toxic concoction of pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides.
These leach into the soils, destroying the microorganisms, thereby killing the entire forest ecosystem from the ground up.
The coffee borer beetle is a huge threat to coffee crops, as they decimate entire plantations.
The sad irony is that farmers would not need to use pesticides to kill these beetles and protect their crops if the forest had not been cleared in the first place because insectivorous birds would keep them under control.
How Coffee Farming Threatens Bird Species
Many of the birds that spend the summer singing in North American gardens, like warblers, orioles, tanagers, and grosbeaks, are migratory species.
During winter in the northern hemisphere, they migrate to the coffee-growing regions of Mexico, Central and South America.
Birds rely on the biodiversity of these ecosystems for food, nesting, and safe refuge while they are over-wintering.
A researcher from York University, Bridget Stutchbury, studied the impact of deforestation on bird species by tracking individual Wood Thrushes on their migratory journey from the US to Nicaragua.
The research findings directly correlated the 50% decline in Wood Thrush populations with the rate of deforestation in Nicaragua, where 30% of the rainforest has been cleared in the last two decades.
Many other bird species are affected in the same way.
Make a Difference
By switching to shade-grown, organic, Bird Friendly® coffee, you economically support producers that are growing coffee in a sustainable way as well as contribute to an increased demand for Bird Friendly® coffee.
Supporting agroforestry practices is vital to help bird populations recover.
The American Birding Association states that shade-grown coffee plantations are the best habitat for migratory and resident birds in Central America.
Finca Rosa Blanca, an eco-lodge and coffee farm in Costa Rica, rehabilitated 30 acres of sun-grown coffee plantation to shade-grown by planting over 5000 indigenous trees.
Before the project started, 60 species of birds were identified. After 15 years of reforesting, the plantation is now home to 130 bird species!
Bird Friendly® coffee is more expensive than sun-grown coffee, but the benefit to birds and the environment is priceless.
At the same time, you benefit from the comfort of knowing that your morning cup of coffee has not contributed to deforestation and habitat loss for birds.
Globally, we consume over 7 million tons of coffee per year. If you are like me and drink two cups per day, which amounts to more than 700 cups per year – 7 kilograms of coffee beans!
Given the substantial amount of coffee we consume, we can make a real difference by using our economic power as consumers to drive up the demand for sustainable, shade-grown coffee.