What is Bird Friendly Coffee?

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Bird Friendly Habitat for as Far as the Eye Can See

We are frequently asked: “What exactly is Bird Friendly® coffee and why does it matter?”

Bird Friendly coffee preserves habitat for forest creatures in Latin America including our migratory songbirds. Coffee that is certified Bird Friendly grows in an agro-forest.  The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (SMBC) certifies that these forests provide good habitat for wildlife.  

All Bird Friendly coffee is first certified organic, and then goes much further adding standards for shade cover, plant species diversity, canopy structure, required buffer zones, leaf litter cover and much more. These are all necessary for wildlife to flourish.  

Read more on Bird Friendly criteria here.


In Latin America, where most of our migratory songbirds spend their winters, deforestation for agriculture is happening at an alarmingly fast rate.  Forests are mowed down for monoculture and the impact on wildlife is devastating. Huge declines in our migratory songbirds are noticeable to those of us old enough to remember the plentiful songbirds here in Southern Ontario only 20 years ago.  You can help slow the rate of deforestation by purchasing Certified Bird Friendly coffee.  This supports those growers who valiantly maintain the front-lines of the resistance to this overwhelming destruction.

Bird Friendly farms provide habitat for a wide range of species, not just birds!
A hooded warbler finds a grub in a coffee forest
Indigo Bunting
Indigo Bunting migrating from Latin America to its breeding ground in Ontario

By choosing Bird Friendly certified coffee, we support the growers who steward forest ecosystems.  Beyond preservation of ecosystems and diversity of species, Bird Friendly stewardship also results in soil conservation,  pest control, pollination, water storage, carbon storage and climate change mitigation.  Preserving expansive and diverse forests in central and south America are necessary to world climate and the well being of global systems.  They have been called the lungs of the world and they mitigate climate change. Read more on ecological benefits here.

Sometimes the phrase “Shade Grown” is used on coffee labels as if it were equivalent to Bird Friendly.  Unfortunately, this is like accepting “natural” as equivalent to “organic”.  While Bird Friendly coffee is indeed “shade grown”, we need to go a bit deeper if we want to ensure our good will hits the target. It isn’t the shade that provides the habitat but the fact that Bird Friendly farms are functioning, biodiverse, forest ecosystems.   The SMBC developed the Bird Friendly coffee certification so we can confidently choose to support produces who grow their coffee in harmony with forest dwellers…  Forest dwellers like this troupe of howler monkeys David saw on a Bird Friendly coffee farm in Nicaragua.

Sales of Certified Bird Friendly coffee also help to fund the research performed by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. This research advances the understanding of migratory birds that we need in order to preserve them for future generations. Look for the seal on the bags when you buy your coffee.  You will find this seal on all of our bags. Browse our online selection.

8 Responses

  1. Re: A forest ecosystem is not the same as “trees”. See this article about monoculture tree planting that has unintended negative consequences. By contrast the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center has characterized a functioning forest ecosystem and applies it to growers of Bird Friendly® coffee. It requires a diversity of native trees, several layers of forest, leaf litter and much more. It takes a trained organic inspector 2 weeks to learn how to apply the criteria for the certification. An ecosystem is biodiverse.

  2. Hi. We want to ask our local store if they would consider stocking your coffee. I do have a bag of your American Redstart Light Roast, received from Tom Bihn, one of your Seattle supporters. Would you be able to send me a brochure or two, something I can show the staff? Thank you.

  3. Are you saying that beyond the Smithsonian, there is no certification authority for bird-friendly coffee beans? I currently buy Starbucks beans because I like the taste, but if Starbucks does not use bird friendly beans I will absolutely not buy its beans in the future; I will also make sure everyone I know on social media is aware of the company’s lack of concern on this issue.

  4. Yes, that is what we are saying! The Bird Friendly certification is operated by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (SMBC). They developed the criteria based on science and conservation principles. It is monitored by trained organic inspectors and administered by the SMBC. When we investigate new origins of coffee we ask if it is Bird Friendly. We are almost always told it is Bird Friendly. So we ask if it is certified or certifiable. We are almost always told it is certifiable. So we ask the SMBC if they would certify it and they almost always say no. IMO, with some verifiable exceptions, if it is not SMBC BF certified it is almost always greenwashing.

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