Shade-grown coffee is for the birds

Catbird ©Janet AllenCatbird on its way to our stream, having returned from its winter in Central America

Years ago, we learned how our coffee choice has a big impact on birds.

Especially important to us, we learned that it affects the very birds that spend their summer in our yard! Many of our favorite birds, such as catbirds and hummingbirds, fly all the way to Central America for the winter.

The problem is that in the 1970s, industrial agriculture arrived there, too. A large proportion of coffee is now being grown in sun plantations rather than in the shade, as was the traditional way to grow coffee. And these sun plantations are biological deserts as far as their ability to support any life except the coffee plants themselves.


Birds & Beans ©Janet Allen
Birds & Beans coffee

We recently found Birds & Beans certified Bird-Friendly coffee at the Wild Birds Unlimited store. When we can't get to the WBU store, we always buy Fair Trade, organic coffee, which is likely also to be shade-grown (how likely we don't know).

Also important, this kind of coffee benefits the small-scale farmers and the Central American environment. The farmers get a larger percentage of the price paid, and no toxic chemicals are used that would otherwise pollute their land.

Wegmans coffee ©Janet Allen
Wegmans coffee - the Guatelmalan variety ONLY

We were thrilled to see that our local Wegmans store recently began to stock certified Bird-Friendly coffee! It's now the only kind we buy.

The Bird-Friendly certification symbol to look for is on the left side of the label under the USDA Organic certification logo. So far, it seems to be available only with the Single Origin Organic Guatamalan coffee, not the other Single Origin varieties.

Bird-friendly ©Janet Allen
Bird-friendly logo

I don't yet know whether this is offered in all Wegmans stores, but they don't seem to advertise the fact that it's special in this way, so we were just lucky to have spotted it.

Note that the Bird-friendly logo is not the same as "organic" and it's not the same as shade-grown. It's pretty small so you have to look closely on the package.

"Bird-friendly" is the certification program developed by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center designed to assure that the coffee plantation is indeed bird-friendly.

Our birds who overwinter in shade coffee plantations

Besides the catbird, here are just a few of our yard's summer bird visitors that depend on shade coffee plantations for survival during the winter:

Yellow-rumped warbler ©Janet AllenYellow-rumped warbler

We always enjoy seeing the yellow-rumped warblers when they migrate through our yard, stopping to take a bath in our stream. I always hope they'll find good winter habitat when they get to Central America.

Baltimore oriole ©Janet AllenBaltimore oriole

Baltimore oriole in our redbud tree (Cercis canadensis).

Hummingbird ©Janet AllenHummingbird

Ruby-throated hummingbird getting nectar from a blue lobelia (Lobelia syphilitica).