Thursday, March 26, 2009

Your Cup of Joe Can Make a Difference

Yellow-throated Warbler, formerly known as the Sycamore Warbler for its
fondness for sycamore trees, has a sweet melodic song. Photo by John Howard.

"Don't these birds look like candy? Flying candy...?", a quote from the great orator, Rocky Balboa. Come to think of it, they kinda do, Rocky! And, I am like a kid in a candy store when I am around them. Warblers! They are so colorful and animated. I love chasing them, watching them and sharing them with others.

"TEA-cher, TEA-cher, TEA-cher!" screams out the Ovenbird, like
an overeager student. I love its orange crown. Photo By John Howard.

I look forward to each spring when the migrant birds come back from Central and South America with their cheery songs and gorgeous plumage. Normally, I like to hit the snooze, but during migration it is somehow much easier to get up. I find myself eager to jump up at the crack of dawn to be greeted by these little bundles of energy that hop and flutter from limb to limb while gobbling up tasty caterpillars and other insects.
Common Yellowthroat, the masked marauder of
the wetlands. Photo by John Howard.
About five years ago, I learned about the importance of shade-grown coffee and the link to my bird friends. I found out that this coffee is grown in a more natural way. This process allows birds to safely occupy the plantations; they use very little, if any, pesticides or herbicides. Fewer pesticides means lots of juicy insects are around to help the birds put on fat before their big trip up north. Fewer herbicides means there is plenty of cover so the birds feel safe while they feed.

Chestnut-sided Warbler with its flashy yellow cap. Photo by John Howard.

Traditionally, this was the way coffee was grown until 1972. Most varieties of coffee prefer to grow under a canopy of shade trees. The coffee plants are protected from direct sun and the fallen leaves from the trees provide mulch to retain soil moisture. The abundant birds feed on insects and naturally reduce damage from insect pests. In 1972, new sun-tolerant coffee hybrids were introduced that produced higher yields of coffee beans. Growers started switching their crops to the new form, cutting down trees in the process. Unfortunately, the new sun coffee needed high volumes of pesticides. Because the areas are cleared of other plants, erosion and mineral depletion required additional fertilizers to be applied to the soil.

Bee-buzz!!! Bee-buzz!!! I love that sound and then the subsequent chase to

find where it is hiding. These little guys are great ventiloquists. You

think it is located in the shrub right in front of you and realize it is actually

180 degrees behind you! Blue-winged Warbler photo by John Howard.

The brilliant flame-colored throat of a Blackburnian Warbler always

stops me in my tracks. Photo by John Howard.

So what is a birder to do? We love coffee; it is essential to help us roll out of bed at 4am to go looking for birds. There is an option that can make a huge difference if all of us would climb on board. Shade-grown coffee is bird-friendly and healthier for you, as well. Sun coffee is sprayed with more chemicals than any other food product. Shade-grown coffee uses very little, if any, chemicals. The coffee beans ripen slowly in the shade to develop a deeper, richer flavor. Because the crop grows in the shade, local farmers can grow fruit and nut crops along with the coffee to give them multiple sources of income. It is estimated that shade-grown coffee plants can live twice as long as sun-grown plants and some shade-grown plants can live up to 50 years!

The" zee zee, zoo zoo, zee" of the Black-throated Green Warbler was one of

the first warbler songs I learned. Photo by John Howard.

Black and White Warbler, with its beautifully patterned

zebra-striped plumage. Photo By John Howard.

So, an ordinary, everyday task of making a cup of coffee, can make a big difference to the migrant birds that visit the midwest. If nature lovers would switch to shade-grown coffee and convince a few of their friends, it could make a huge impact. If we create a demand for shade-grown coffee, this may slow the clear-cutting to produce more sun-grown fields and possibly some of the fields may be converted back to shade-grown coffee. Shade-grown coffee is good for the growers with a better livelihood and health. It is good for us becuase the coffee is grown with less chemicals. And, it is great for the birds by supplying much needed habitat. Less pesticides and more flavor! What a bargain! So, please consider the simple switch next time you make a cup of joe. There is always room for more warblers in this world!

Summer Tanager, another gorgeous visitor of shade-grown

coffee plantations. Photo by John Howard.

For more information, please visit Birds and Beans and Audubon Coffee.

For more posts on birds, visit I and the Bird.



Scott said...

Fun stuff! I can't wait until these guys get back up here to northern Indiana... I've been reviewing their songs for a month now, and I'm ready!

Wonderful photos, too!

Janet Creamer said...

Thanks Scott! I can't wait for the warbler season. Love it!
Are you doing "warbler neck" exercises, too? Saw three Pine Warblers a week ago and one Yellow-rumped last week. :)

The Zen Birdfeeder said...

Great photos to accompany an important post. Maybe shade-grown coffee is gaining momentum, at least amongst birders. But we're the ones that DO need to get going on it.
Check out my recent post on the issue:

Mary said... all the warbler photos! I wish I saw more of them.

Liz at Yips and Howls said...

Love your photos and how you wove them into a plea for shade-grown coffee.