Saving Songbirds Starts with Your Morning Coffee

 Coffee “cherries,” freshly picked and ready to be processed. Ripening beneath the shade of an intact, functioning forest, traditional shade-grown coffee produces beans with superior flavor while preserving critical bird habitat. (©Scott Weidensaul)

Coffee “cherries,” freshly picked and ready to be processed. Ripening beneath the shade of an intact, functioning forest, traditional shade-grown coffee produces beans with superior flavor while preserving critical bird habitat. (©Scott Weidensaul)

The air is crowded with birds — beautiful, tender, intelligent birds — to whom life is a song.
— George Henry Lewes

I woke this morning to the musical magic of birdsong - is there anything better? Despite the chilly weather, and the freezing rain earlier this week, songbirds are singing, and IT IS SPRING. In an era of constant change, instability, and fear - there is something so comforting about the reliable rites of spring.

Spring comes to us in a symphony of sounds and color - the calls of frogs as they begin their age-old mating rituals, the tremolo of loons overhead in search of open water, and brave little crocuses bolting up from the cold ground. But perhaps, the most cherished sign of spring for many of us is the return of songbirds to our yards and woodlands. They simply enrich our lives with cheerful color, elegant flight, and beautiful sounds - they are music to our ears after a long, cold winter. 

But how much have you really thought about where our sweet songbirds have been the last many months?

Many spend their winters in the tropics of south and central America, where they face a whole suite of threats that many people aren't even aware of (out of sight, out of mind). But every single day you have the power to impact the survival of these birds, especially if you are one of the 150 million coffee drinkers in this country. 

Your Coffee Can Conserve Birds 

Americans consume one-third of the world's coffee, yet most of us know very little about how it is grown. The coffee plant evolved to grow in shade. Up until about 40 years ago, most coffee was grown on shade or partial shade plantations - coffee plants were cultivated under the natural canopy of tropical forests. As our appetite for coffee has grown (the U.S. now spends $40 billion on coffee each year), growing practices have shifted to sun-grown coffee which yields more beans - quickly and cheaply. This means that massive amounts of rainforest have been clearcut to make way for sun-grown coffee farms - which are devoid of wildlife. 

 Sun grown coffee plantation in Brazil. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Sun grown coffee plantation in Brazil. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

As my readers know, I am a big proponent of biodiversity conservation because biological diversity is key to ecosystem function and resilience in the face of climate change, habitat loss, globalization, and other stressors. While my work helping people create bird habitat here in Maine is an important piece in the conservation puzzle, our efforts are in vain if these songbirds can't survive on the wintering grounds.

Where sun-tolerant coffee is grown, the tree canopy and native forest have been stripped away, thereby removing habitat for birds, bats, and other native wildlife. The result: a highly industrialized monoculture crop that is dependent on chemicals (because the wildlife are not present to keep pests in check). This shade-grown versus sun-grown coffee story exquisitely illustrates how paramount it is to "keep every cog and wheel" in an ecosystem.

Enter the wonderful world of Bird Friendly® coffee farms - veritable bird sanctuaries that allow families to grow coffee as they have for generations: in the shade. Bird Friendly® coffee is grown on farms that the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center has certified as having the necessary foliage cover, tree height, and biodiversity to provide habitat quality for birds on more than 100,000 acres in Mexico, Peru, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. In Nicaragua alone, over 450 family farms provide refuge to birds on their wintering grounds. 

 What a “Bird Friendly” landscape looks like. Almost everything in this photo of the northern Nicaraguan highlands, to the horizon, is a traditional shade coffee farm, certified as both USDA Organic and “Bird Friendly” by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. (©Scott Weidensaul)

What a “Bird Friendly” landscape looks like. Almost everything in this photo of the northern Nicaraguan highlands, to the horizon, is a traditional shade coffee farm, certified as both USDA Organic and “Bird Friendly” by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. (©Scott Weidensaul)

You can drink delicious premium-quality coffee that supports the conservation of birds like the Swainson's Thrush, Blackburnian Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo, and many others. 

Imagine enjoying a rich-bodied cup of coffee as you listen to the ethereal song of a Wood Thrush at dawn. Are you with me? Sounds dreamy, right? Now imagine if that cup of coffee was Bird Friendly® certified. You could literally enjoy that special Cup of Joe knowing that your purchase helps to ensure that their beautiful song will be heard for a long time to come. That is because our Wood Thrushes winter in southern Honduras and northern Nicaragua, where the above picture was taken.  

 Bird Friendly® coffee plantations provide quality habitat for the Yellow Warbler (upper left), Magnolia Warbler (upper right), Chestnut-sided Warbler (lower left) and Baltimore Oriole (lower right) on their wintering grounds. Warbler photos by  Doug Gimler ; oriole photo - Pixabay.

Bird Friendly® coffee plantations provide quality habitat for the Yellow Warbler (upper left), Magnolia Warbler (upper right), Chestnut-sided Warbler (lower left) and Baltimore Oriole (lower right) on their wintering grounds. Warbler photos by Doug Gimler; oriole photo - Pixabay.

Be Bird Friendly - Beyond the Backyard

Drink Bird Friendly® coffee to support conservation of migratory birds. In the sustainable coffee market there are plenty of claims of shade-grown, but the Bird Friendly® certification is the only 100 percent organic, shade-grown coffee certification available.

Birds and Beans coffee is the only Bird Friendly® brand that is triple certified as:

1. USDA Organic

2. Fair trade

3. Bird Friendly® by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center

You know what else is pretty cool? When you buy Birds and Beans coffee you are also supporting Wicked Joe, where all their beans are roasted.  

To find a store near you where you can purchase this environmentally epic coffee go here

Then, invite a friend over for a cup of this special coffee and tell them all about what an impact it is having on local people in Latin America and the birds we enjoy at our feeders and in our woods.

And remember, being bird-friendly goes well beyond the backyard.

*Please note: I have not received any financial compensation or payments for recommending Bird Friendly® coffee. This post is nothing but a true shout-out to an amazing brand that is going above-and-beyond to conserve migratory birds. 


Did you know? Birds have been migrating between North America and the New World Tropics for over 5 million years. We call these birds Neotropical migrants.

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 I partner with eco-minded landowners to create thriving wildlife habitats in their backyards, gardens, fields and farms, woods or campuses - at any scale.  I have 25 years of experience in my field, and a lifelong commitment to wildlife conservation.   Read  My Story .   

I partner with eco-minded landowners to create thriving wildlife habitats in their backyards, gardens, fields and farms, woods or campuses - at any scale.

I have 25 years of experience in my field, and a lifelong commitment to wildlife conservation. 

Read My Story.