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Birds Like a Shady Deal for the Winter

February 06, 2011

As temperatures go south, so do the birds, finding coffee plantations a welcome respite.

Shade-grown coffee is in the news again. This week Jim Williams wrote a report on a Maryland birder’s visit to Guatemalan coffee plantations where coffee plants thrive amid taller trees of various native species. This growing of coffee plants among other vegetation is not only the best thing for the birds, but also provides benefits for the coffee and other aspects of the environment. See our previous story on shade-grown coffee at http://www.roaste.com/CoffeeBlogs/sherman8r/Whole-Shade-Deal-Discovering...

Williams reported that the birding visitors were able to spot many species of birds – such as warblers, tanagers, orioles and thrushes - that had picked the visited plantations for their winter home away from home. The Audubon Society lists 200 species that winter in coffee habitats. Whole flocks were spending the colder months together during their hiatus from the US and the frosty east coast winter.

The Guatemalan government is personally encouraging the coffee farmers to plant native shade trees that are also fruit-producing. The main advantage to this is that the farmers derive more income from the same plot of land. But the other aspect is that these same trees provide precious habitat for the migrating birds, who all too soon will be heading back up north for the spring and summer.

Buying shade-grown coffee helps to protect the migrant species of birds which pay us back by pollinating flowers and trees, eating insects and planting new seeds. As more and more farmers move into planting coffee among other trees, shade-grown coffees are more readily available. What was rare and hard to find a few years ago is now becoming commonplace.

The irony here is that coffee was originally grown in the trees, in jungles and forests, and it actually thrives in the shade. Farmers thought they could increase yields by clearing the land and planting only the coffee, but that wasn’t as advantageous as they expected. So now many are going back to the old way and bringing back in the trees. It makes for a much nicer farming environment besides all the other advantages.

This is all a good thing, for us, and, for the birds.



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