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The Green Life: Coffee That's for the Birds

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December 09, 2009

Coffee That's for the Birds

Shade grown coffee is better for migrating birds like the oriole More people are flocking to a bird-friendly buzz, says a recent report by the National Zoo's Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (SMBC). Sales of the SMBC's certified "Bird Friendly" coffee reached nearly $3.5 million in 2008—an average annual increase of 145 percent from 2000 to 2008. This is good news for the ruby-throated hummingbird, the Baltimore oriole, and the American kestrel—birds that benefit from shade-grown, organic coffee production; Audubon has a helpful list of North American bird species affected by coffee plantations.

Historically, coffee was grown beneath a canopy of diverse trees, where wildlife thrived alongside the coffee bushes. Farmers started clear-cutting trees in the 1970s, hoping to increase yields. These "sun-coffee" farms also tend to rely heavily on fertilizers and pesticides. But as more consumers demand sustainable, ecofriendly beverages, some growers have returned to the traditional method of coffee cultivation, which protects delicate ecosystems.

If you're a bird-lover searching for a feel-good cup of joe, look for SMBC's Bird Friendly seal or the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal. Check out Sierra magazine's coverage to see how coffee experts rated ecofriendly brands.

--Della Watson

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