Chapter of the Month: Mecklenburg Audubon Society supports coffee conservation for birds

Audubon North Carolina has 10 amazing chapters across the state who help put a local focus on bird preservation and conservation issues. In this special blog series, we’ll focus on a chapter each month to learn more about their history, what they are working on, and to increase the statewide understanding of special ecosystems and habitats. Each month will include a series of posts about each chapter including a post from our biologists that will share a unique research project that is happening in the chapter’s geographic footprint.

This month focuses on the Mecklenburg Audubon Society (MAS). We love when our chapters embrace innovative ways to protect birds, and MAS has done just that with their bird-friendly coffee and other organic dairy products. Read more to find out how these products help migratory songbirds like the Wood Thrush.

The Wood Thrush is Mecklenburg Audubon’s adopted species and Audubon North Carolina’s 2015 Bird of the Year.

At every meeting of our MAS chapter, conservation begins with our coffee. It might seem strange that drinking coffee (in our case, we drink Birds & Beans) could make a difference, but every cup contributes to encouraging businesses to care about keeping habitats intact.

How the coffee industry can hurt birds:

Neotropical migratory songbirds, like the Red-eyed VireoIndigo Bunting and Wood Thrush, face habitat loss on both ends of their migratory range.

Wood Thrush by Kelly Colgan Azar/Flickr Creative Commons

In the northern breeding zones, landscapes have lost forests, hedgerows and wood lots to clearing and industrial agriculture. In the tropics, large-scale deforestation destroys rainforest for modernized coffee plantations, which grow their plants in full sun and with massive doses of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.

These plantations serve sun-grown coffee brands like Starbucks, Folgers and Maxwell House. The popularity of these well-known brands leads to steep decline for both neotropical migratory songbirds and grassland-breeding birds, according to The North American Bird Conservation Initiative’s 2014 State of the Birds Report.

But these birds can bounce back. They are gaining both breeding and wintering habitats, thanks to USDA Organic Dairy farms and Bird Friendly® coffee farms.

Bird-Friendly Beans

So what makes a plantation bird-friendly?

The official Bird Friendly® certification comes from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. It combines USDA Organic standards with requirements for forest shade cover, multilayered canopy and the presence of epiphytes.

Trained field biologists from a variety of organizations went to these farms to ‘certify the certifications’ and record how much of a difference truly sustainable family farming can make for bird conservation.

And they found more than 130 species of birds, in Nicaragua alone.

Vireos, thrushes, flycatchers, tanagers and orioles flocked through the trees. Tennessee (), Chestnut-sidedBlack-throated Green and Wilson’s Warblers populated the skies. The survey team even found Golden-winged Warblers—a candidate species for endangered listing in the U.S.

There are now more than 20,000 acres of Bird Friendly® coffee farms in Latin America, and Birds & Beans Coffee has grown sales by over 50 percent annually over the past five years.

Got organic dairy?

But it is not all about the beans. Organic dairy acreage also contributes to conserving bird habitats. As overall organic farm acreage in the United States has doubled since 2003, a significant portion of that growth has been driven by the popularity of dairy products, like those from Organic Valley. Birds & Beans sponsored surveys in 2014 of USDA organic dairy farms in Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio and Vermont.

On these farms, they found a rich breeding ground for more than 50 of the most beautiful, at-risk bird species.

From Indigo Buntings, American RedstartsBaltimore Orioles and the Wood Thrush, to Black-and-White, Blackburnian, Chestnut-sided, and Black-throated Green Warblers, these farms are virtual sanctuaries. They even protect grassland birds of great conservation concern, including Grasshopper Sparrows and Bobolinks.

It’s a good feeling for our chapter to know we are supporting such habitats, simply by serving bird-friendly coffee at our meetings and events. It is a reminder that sustainable farming is good for birds, farmers, workers and the environment we all share.

About Birds & Beans® Bird Friendly® Coffee

One of the first coffee companies to take up the Bird Friendly® certification was Birds & Beans Canada, founded and still operated by Madeleine Pengelley and David Pritchard. Building on their start, in 2008 Scott Weidensaul and Bill Wilson launched Birds & Beans® coffee to make it easy for coffee drinkers in the US to buy Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center ‘Bird Friendly’ coffee. Our ‘Voices for the Birds’ include Kenn Kaufman, Dr.Bridget Stutchbury, Wayne Petersen, Ken Rosenberg and our most recent ‘voice’ is author and teacher Katie Fallon. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is Birds & Beans national ‘Conservation Partner’ and joins with local and regional ‘Conservation Partners’ in our bird conservation advocacy. In June 2013 they launched a program with American Bird Conservancy to work with coffee farmers in the Americas to gain Bird Friendly® certification, to address challenges organic farmers face today and to educate consumers in North America about the important bird conservation and sustainability benefits generated by buying and drinking coffee with the certification. The advocacy they hold for co-ops/small family farms is they have a strong potential for longevity – these farmers and their families have been doing this for a very long time, in some cases over a hundred years, and frankly have no other way to make a decent living. Bonus: Bird Friendly coffee tastes great! For further information, visit www.birdsandbeans.com

About Organic Valley

Organic Valley is America’s largest cooperative of organic farmers and one of the nation’s leading organic brands. Organized in 1988, it represents approximately 1,800 farmers in 36 states and Canada. Focused on its founding mission of saving family farms through organic farming, Organic Valley produces a variety of organic foods, including organic milk, soy, cheese, butter, spreads, creams, eggs, and produce, which are sold in supermarkets, natural foods stores and food cooperatives nationwide. With its regional model, milk is produced, bottled and distributed right in the region where it is farmed to ensure fewer miles from farm to table and to support our local economies. For further information visit www.organicvalley.coop