Chilly autumn mornings go great with a hot cup of coffee and a relaxing view of migrating birds--but there might be a stronger connection between that cup of coffee and the birds at the feeder than you realize. 

Most of the coffee consumed in the U.S. comes from Brazil and Columbia, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Many of the migratory bird species that pass through Minnesota each year, such as warblers and orioles, spend their winters in these same places. 

Much of our coffee comes from plantations where large forest ecosystems have been eliminated in favor of a single coffee bean crop that receives full sun. This system has long been regarded to yield the highest output of coffee, but it also severely limits the rich native biodiversity of the region. 

Shade-grown coffee is an alternative growing method that allows some native canopy to remain standing. This provides habitat for native species of wildlife, including the hundreds of bird species that take refuge there. 

Katie Burns is the outreach coordinator for Audubon Minnesota, and harbors a personal passion for supporting the shade-grown coffee industry. 

 Minnesota is a geographically critical area for migratory birds, Burns said. Around 60% of the birds in North America use the Mississippi Flyway, which includes the St. Croix River region, on their seasonal migration routes. 

“They’re not just cruising right through; they’re stopping to rest, to eat, to recharge their batteries,” Burns said. “We’re so lucky to be able to enjoy all these birds. It brings great responsibility, to do good things to places that they go when we don’t see them. It’s not just about Minnesota. The choices that we make have a local impact, but they also have a global impact.”  

In the wake of the recent report that North American bird populations have declined by 3 million in last 50 years, many people are looking for individual actions that can help. Choosing shade-grown coffee is one way, Burns said. 

“One thing we can do for birds is provide them with habitat strongholds, which they need now but will also need in the future. These are things we can do now to help the birds that we love, that we see, and also make sure our future generations are able to enjoy them as much as we do.”

 

Where to find shade-grown coffee

The Sparrow Cafe in South Minneapolis touts itself as the “only coffeeshop in Minneapolis with certified bird-friendly coffee.” This cafe carries Birds & Beans coffee, which is the Smithsonian-certified Bird Friendly coffee brand. Birds & Beans works with family farms in Latin America who maintain native tree canopies. The coffee is organic and fair trade.  

Other brands of shade-grown coffee can be found at local grocery stores, or even ordered online with a subscription service delivered to your house. Burns said that the Bird Friendly seal from the Smithsonian’s certification program is one of the highest standards for shade-grown coffee. Not all coffee that is shade-grown is necessarily beneficial for birds. Native trees are the most helpful for bird habitat. Organizations such as Sustain Coffee make it their mission to help coffee farmers plant native trees on their farms in order to assist in facing the challenges of climate change and habitat fragmentation. 

“What’s great about products like coffee is that these producers are making it easier for people to identify for consumers to find them,” Burns said. Shoppers can also look for the green tree frog stamp that marks coffee certified by the Rainforest Alliance, which is another good choice for environmentally sustainable coffee. 

“If people are in a place where they are grocery stores, where they’re not seeing those certifications, but they see things like ‘organic,’ that’s great too, but these certifications are not all created equal. But I think with coffee it is made relatively easy.” 

The Birds & Beans Smithsonian-certified coffee is the most rigorous standard you can get, Burns said. 

“When you’re reaching for a product that you can feel good about, they’re doing all of the things that really speak to that sustainability model,” she said.

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