It's still dark out, and you're awakened by a loud chorus of trills and cheeps, piping melodies, bursts of full-throated song. Has the alarm gone mad? No, it's those irrepressible migratory songbirds again, returned from southern climes. And happy to be home, obviously, with a season's worth of mating, nesting and feeding ahead before they make the long flight back to Latin America. Bienvenidos birds! Time to wake up and smell the coffee, but not just any coffee: Make yours bird-friendly, which helps protect the winter homes of our breakfast troubadours.
Populations of songbirds -- including once-common warblers, vireos, bobolinks, thrushes, sparrows, starlings and barnswallows -- are declining due to pesticides and destruction and fragmentation of their tropical habitats, according to the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (SMBC) of the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Logging, clearing and global warming are destroying 7,500 square miles of rainforest a year. Preserving tropical canopies is crucial, not just for the birds, but for our own sakes, as the Amazon alone provides 20 percent of our oxygen and rainforests serve as the world's best carbon "sink," according to the International Carbon Bank and Exchange.
Because coffee is cultivated in the birds' tropic zone, SMBC recommends that consumers provide incentive for forest conservation through buying coffee that's grown organically, without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, and beneath natural rainforest canopies. This is how coffee was traditionally produced, before industrial "sun" coffee on large cleared tracts became widespread in an attempt to maximize yields with chemical inputs. SMBC has developed and certifies a "Bird-friendly" label for coffee that's both organic and shade-grown. In 2008, SMBC reports that at least 20 forest bird species inhabit bird-friendly farms, as compared with fewer than 10 in conventional farms.
Now, that's something to sing about.
To find retailers of SMBC-certified "bird-friendly" brew near you, click here.
You can also look for coffees labelled both certified organic and by the Rainforest Alliance, which certifies products farmed in methods that are eco-friendly, if not strictly beneath a natural forest canopy.
This article originally appeared in Plenty in April 2008. The story was added to MNN.com.