Coffee is bad for birds

  • Looking for shade: MacGillivray's warbler

    R. and N. Bowers
  You pour yourself a cup of coffee and listen for the chirp and twitter of birds outside. But as you sip, you notice the quiet: What's happened to the songbirds?

The answer could be right in your cup.

Songbird populations are dropping as foreign coffee plantations "modernize" to keep up with America's thirst for the brew, say scientists. Millions of orioles, warblers, vireos and other birds migrate to Mexican and Central American coffee farms each winter, to live in the fruit trees that shade coffee bushes. But that's changed.

The United States now drinks a third of the world's brew, with beans our third largest import after oil and steel; to meet the demand, foreign growers have been cutting down shade trees to get higher yields from sun-drenched coffee plants, a move they say produces four times as many coffee beans per acre.

But these treeless coffee farms are nearly devoid of bird life. "Sun coffee is one of the poorest habitats for migratory birds, even in comparison to other human-disturbed habitats," says Russell Greenberg, director of the Smithsonian's migratory bird center, in Birding magazine.

What's a java junkie to do? Look for "bird-friendly," shade-grown coffees due on the market this spring, says Greg Butcher, executive director of the American Birding Association. They will probably sell at prices similar to gourmet and organically grown brews.

* Danielle Desruisseaux

High Country News Classifieds