Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.

Shade-grown coffee, ubiquitous, and still important

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird conservation, Bird migration Updated: April 22, 2014 - 9:25 AM

Remember shade coffee? There was a time a few years ago when this was a hot topic for birders. Shade coffee today is ubiquitous. And a good thing that is.

To review: Much of the coffee we drink is grown in Central and South America, where many of our nesting birds go for the winter. A successful winter helps them return strong in the spring, more likely to have a productive breeding season. The habitat in which these birds spend the winter is important. Coffee plantations can provide good habitat but only if the coffee plants are grown beneath shade trees.

Ordinary coffee is grown in fields cleared of natural vegetation because the plants then are easier to tend, and the beans quicker to ripen. Ordinary sun-coffee is easy to find. Big red cans are hard to miss.

Shade-grown coffee protects needed songbird habitat. Plus, shade-grown coffee is said to be more flavorful. This coffee too is easy to find, a development in recent years driven by conservationists and by people who prefer more flavorful coffee. Which shade-grown coffee is.

The label on the small (12 oz.) bag of shade coffee should tell you that it is indeed shade grown. The label might also mention fair trade status, which means that the farmers who grew the coffee received a fair price for their efforts. Supporting them helps support shade coffee.

The for the birds, shade is the important element here. If you haven’t made the switch, give shade a try.

Whether we realize it or not, we humans do much to make life difficult for birds. Our everyday demands for food, fuel and shelter slowly but surely shrink the grasslands, wetlands and woodlands birds inhabit. We
kill birds, not with malicious intent but with nonchalant neglect. Roads, towers, chemicals, cars all contribute. 

And while many of us work hard to mitigate those problems here in Minnesota, where migrant
visitors spend their breeding season, that is only part of the battle. Buying shade coffee extends a helping hand into the tropical countries, where these birds winter. What happens there is equally important to the
survival of dozens of bird species.

Below, a Yellow-rumped Warbler, one of the species wintering where Central American coffee is grown. These birds, early spring migrants, are being seen in Minnesota now. 

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