I have a Valentine’s Day confession to make. I truly love that first sip of morning coffee –not just any java, but my new favorite “Scarlet Tanager” Dark Roast Organic Fairly Traded Smithsonian Bird Friendly Coffee. I ordered five pounds from Birds & Beans Coffee after sampling a few of their bird-named blends–like Chestnut-sided Warbler and Wood Thrush.

Purchasing the trademarked  “Bird Friendly” coffee  is incredibly important to support neotropical birds (that breed in North America and winter in the tropics) and the farmers who are growing coffee in harmony with nature. It’s also key for climate change action– protecting forests that in turn store carbon.

Bird Friendly coffees are the world’s only shade-grown, organic coffees certified by third-party inspectors using criteria established by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. These criteria are based on years of research and are scientifically proven to provide bird habitat second only to undisturbed forest.

How important? More than half of North American bird species face troubling declines. We already live in a diminished world with a few billion fewer birds than 40 years ago. Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” book is more relevant than ever–with the threats to birds coming from many more sources than DDT (which we did ban, yay–thanks Rachel!).

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The taste of Scarlet Tanager Dark Roast? It’s as vibrant and wakeful as a singing tanager, and as earthy and wild as the Latin America coffee plantation that sustains hundreds of neotropical migratory bird species in forests. It’s true! Coffee experts concur that coffee beans ripen more slowly under shade, giving them a richer, more complex flavor.

Meanwhile, I have a second confession to make. Only in the last couple months did I learn the difference between purchasing the trademarked Smithsonian Bird Friendly coffee and the shade-grown, organic, fair trade coffee I can find here in my favorite coffee shops in Bend, Oregon.  You have to look for the words “BIRD FRIENDLY” and logo, like in the photo below of the Black and White Warbler--a neotropical songbirds hat migrates south from North America breeding grounds as far as northern South America.

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The revelation came after interviewing Pete Marra who heads the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, and gave me those latest sobering statistics on tumbling bird numbers. I’d had the honor of quizzing him for an article I wrote on the significance of the Appalachian Trail as a “Wild Skyway” for birds.  Researching the piece for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy was both sobering and illuminating–with the immense value of the Appalachian Trail corridor for migrating and nesting birds, and the dedication of so many people working to preserve and protect more connected wildlands along the 2,200 mile-long corridor from Georgia to Maine.

I asked Pete if he could list a few tangible actions people could take from any place they live. The first thing he told me? Buy Bird Friendly Coffee and greatly expand this program through our purchase power. Birds fly across borders, linking their future and ours to all of the Americas. We have to care about deforestation and other threats in their wintering places.

You’d think with my work on behalf of certified Elephant Friendly Tea that I would have figured out which coffee to buy for birds. However, Bird Friendly Coffee mixes in with other certifications that are all good, yet not necessarily focused on forest biodiversity. Check out this Smithsonian graphic on what science says:

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Convinced? I am. It makes sense that a coffee plantation that preserves tropical forest with multiple species, heights, and lush verdance would support 243 bird species. Diversity begets diversity. Right away, I set out to find the Bird Friendly coffee in Bend, and guess what? The only place that sells it is Whole Foods. They carry Allegro coffee–and you have to look for the one called Organic Early Bird Blend.   For now, I’m ordering from Birds & Beans–because I’m in love with that Scarlet Tanager blend and their entire line is dedicated to bird friendly coffee and farmers.  For readers in other places, you might take a look at this list of Bird Friendly Coffee suppliers.

My next task is to spread the word to my favorite coffee hangouts where I write. It’s pretty simple for them to order coffee from certified farms directly.  From personal experience with certified Elephant Friendly Tea, I know the outreach works. Today, both Metolius Artisan Tea  (Tenzing Assam and their amazing Chai blend) and Inspired Leaf  (Elephant Friendly Assam) of Bend carry teas from farms in India that are certified as protective of elephant habitat and safe passage for them.

While my focus is on birds and coffee plantations, it’s clear that farming with wildlife is important on many fronts. And for consumers? Being discerning does matter, and we all need education. Another great place to find wildlife friendly products is through  Wildlife Friendly Enterprises.

I hope you will join me wherever you live in showing the love for birds on Valentines Day and beyond. Right now, I might brew myself just a wee bit more of that oh so delicious Scarlet Tanager coffee and toast to the birds wintering far away. “May they come home safely this spring.” And an extra toast to My Valentine Wes who builds  morning fires in the woodstove, strums guitar, sprinkles seeds on the snow for birds, and tells me every day –“I love you.”

Thanks to Justine Bowe of Smithsonian Bird Friendly Coffee, for supplying me with graphics for this piece. And please join the February campaign to enlist more coffee drinkers to buy bird friendly.  Share this link: http://www.DrinkBirdFriendly.com