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Connecting To Our Planet Birds Offer a Connection to Tens of Millions of Coffee Drinkers

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t’s spring migration time, and America’s most beautiful birds are flying home. This dazzling songbird rainbow includes lemon yellow warblers, cherry red tanagers, and eye-popping orange orioles that are completing epic migrations – some flying over 5,000 miles each year between their breeding grounds in U.S. and Canada and wintering areas in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. As a member of the coffee industry, you are no passive bystander to this impressive natural phenomenon. Your coffee-sourcing decisions make you an active participant, because at least 42 species of these migrants, including many of America’s most beloved birds, like Baltimore Orioles, are coming from coffee farms. But not just any coffee farm will do. Migratory birds thrive in farms where coffee is grown under tall trees (“shade-coffee”) that provide them critical habitat and food resources. The research my students and I have done in Venezuela and Colombia shows that many migratory birds, from Canada Warblers to Rose-breasted Grosbeaks to Summer Tanagers, can thrive on shade-coffee farms. Shade-coffee promotes overwinter survival and good body condition, which means these healthy birds are more likely to survive their long flight back to North America to nest and contribute offspring to the next generation of birds. And many of these populations need more offspring. Because more than half of the migratory species known to winter on coffee farms are declining significantly. Birdwatchers as a Market Opportunity This connection between birds and coffee represents a powerful market opportunity given that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates there are 46 million birdwatchers in the U.S.. If 57 percent of Americans drink

by Amanda D. Rodewald

coffee daily (according to the National Coffee Association), there could be as many as 26 million Americans who care about birds and coffee, or about 17% of the U.S. coffee market. This demographic is willing to put their money to work for birds. Birdwatchers purchase and maintain birdfeeders, travel to farflung places to watch birds, and support conservation organizations. Birdwatchers get involved because they know that bird populations are declining globally.

Blackburnian Warbler in a shadecoffee farm in Colombia. Photo credit: Guillermo Santos

Drivers of migratory bird declines include deforestation and loss of wintering habitats, including shade-coffee farms. Although coffee was grown under a forest canopy when the Dutch introduced it to the New World in the 1700s, many farms have since been “modernized” and converted from shade- to sungrown coffee. When that happens, trees are cleared and coffee is planted in a row-crop monoculture like an Iowa cornfield. More than 60 percent of shadecoffee farms in Colombia were converted to sun-coffee between 1970-1990, and today over 75 percent of Colombia’s mountain forests are gone. cont. on page 32

Amanda Rodewald holding a Mourning Warbler captured as part of her research. Photo credit: Guillermo Santos

28 April 2017

April 2017  

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