#BeTheChange: Bird Friendly Coffee

View Profile An image of the an orange and grey bird perched on a branch saying: 'BLOG #BeTheChange: Bird Friendly Coffee Zachary Anderson Terrestrial Ecologist'

The connection between the coffee we consume and the native songbirds that flock to our province each year may not immediately be clear to the average consumer. Purchasing coffee from your local grocery store or favourite artisanal roaster does not appear to overlap with the seemingly carefree lives of songbirds. Similarly, which hot beverage you consume during bird watching does not influence their cooperation at the end of your binoculars. But who among us has not woken up on a weekend to enjoy a hot cup of joe while staring excitedly out the back window towards our bird feeders, the pride of our backyards, and envy of our neighbours? That connection is merely superficial, but it is not the only one that exists. In fact, the coffee that one chooses to purchase can have a significant impact on songbirds and the protection of their habitats. We just don’t see it.

One thing that coffee plants are great at, other than producing prized magic beans, is providing habitat for songbirds that overwinter in tropical climates. Coffee trees are traditionally grown in shaded canopies surrounded by other fruit producing trees and shrubs. This imagery paints a picture of bird paradise. Suitable habitat, ample food, and a safe place to recharge before spring migration. As global demand for coffee has increased, coffee growing practices have adapted to improve the efficacy and speed that coffee can be produced. The result is a shift from the lush natural landscape of coffee’s origins to a sun grown monoculture with coffee bushes as far as the eye can see. Sun grown coffee fields provide poor quality habitat for the diversity of migrating songbirds in the tropics. Not all songbirds prefer the same conditions. Some species like to be high in the canopy while others do well at lower altitudes. Monocultures reduce bird diversity substantially, and those that can hack it in these conditions are not thriving due to lower diversity of other keystone species, like insects and plants.

To date, there are several different certifications that coffee can have and that consumers can see on the bags they purchase. The general rule of thumb to most, is that the coffee with the most certifications must be the tastiest and most sustainable. However, one certification stands above the rest in protecting native songbirds and their habitat. The Bird Friendly coffee certification developed by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Centre in 1996 promotes the production of coffee that is grown in high quality, sustainable habitat that meets specific criteria to ensure it is beneficial to migratory songbirds that overwinter in tropical climates. Extensive research on the benefits of bird friendly coffee farms to birds has been completed and the results all show that this coffee growing practice promotes the biodiversity of not only birds, but other faunal groups like mammals and insects.

    Supporting native songbirds is easy and does not require you taking weekends off for volunteering or travelling to southern climates, though for some that may be all the persuasion they need. Actively choosing bird friendly certified coffee at retailers that offer it, or by requesting your local coffee shop stock bird friendly coffee, are two of the best ways to support this initiative. Bird friendly coffee helps the environment, the growers that are the stewards of these habitats, and the colourful array of migratory songbirds that call our woodlands home every spring and summer.

    Next time you’re due for a caffeine kick, consider supporting bird friendly coffee by purchasing some of your soon-to-be favourite blends and share this information with the people in your life. Small actions can have large impacts towards environmental sustainability, and actively choosing bird friendly coffee is a great, accessible way to start this journey.

    At RVA, we believe that climate action not only relies on what our organization does, but on the individual choices we make each and every day. Our #BeTheChange stories seek to inform, challenge, and inspire people to learn about the impacts of climate change, and empower them to take make responsible choices at home and at work. By increasing climate literacy and promoting a culture of sustainability within our firm and beyond, we can help drive collective action at the scale required to facilitate the transition to a low-carbon future.