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Bird Friendly® Coffee

By Justine Bowe and Dr. Ruth Bennett
min read

SAFE North American Songbirds Program Invites AZA to Serve Biodiversity

One of the newest SAFE: Saving Animals from Extinction programs, SAFE North American Songbirds, is calling on you to act on behalf of native songbirds. In 2019, researchers found that since 1970, North American bird populations have dropped nearly thirty percent. While this loss feels overwhelming, simple actions can make a difference for birds. One of these can be easily integrated into your daily routine: drink Bird Friendly® coffee. Twenty years of Smithsonian research shows that this action maintains habitat for songbirds. SAFE North American Songbirds invites the Association of Zoos and Aquariums community to support migratory birds by educating the public about bird friendly coffee and serving it at member facilities.

Bird Friendly coffee is grown under a canopy of native shade trees that support high numbers of migratory birds. These farms also support more resident birds, insects, and mammals than conventional coffee by requiring dense native tree cover composed of a minimum of eleven different species and standing at least twelve meters tall. Many migratory birds are restricted to the coffee-belt, which has lost substantial forest and native tree cover since 1970. Bird Friendly is the only certification with standards that guarantee coffee farms support wild songbirds.

Most consumers are unaware that conventional coffee cultivation threatens birds. With habitat destruction driving catastrophic population loss, conservation of and education about coffee habitat is mission-critical for AZA-accredited facilities. From creating coffee farm exhibits in aviaries to hosting Bird Friendly coffee tastings, zoos and aquariums are uniquely positioned to encourage visitors to conserve bird species as part of their morning routines. While consumers may be confused by the variety of eco-friendly labels and marketing claims, AZA zoos and aquariums can unify consumers to demand bird friendly, the only eco-label that guarantees coffee that conserves species.

If you’re aware of Bird Friendly coffee, you may know that it’s hard to find. Coordinated AZA action can change this. With 79 percent of zoo visitors reporting they prefer companies that support wildlife conservation, we believe companies will answer the call from AZA zoos, aquariums, and our 200 million visitors worldwide to adopt bird friendly practices.  Just as AZA members can empower visitors to demand bird friendly practices from their favorite coffee companies, SAFE North American Songbirds will empower AZA institutional representatives to seek bird friendly options from the food service corporations that supply concessions.

SAFE North American Songbirds is committed to understanding and addressing institutional barriers to migrating to Bird Friendly by building action plans and resources for different institutions. Surveys designed to demonstrate visitor support for Bird Friendly as well as a pricing guide will be available to encourage promotion of bird friendly coffee. Combined with minimizing collisions of wild birds with glass, keeping cats indoors, conserving native habitats, and reducing pesticide use, AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums can also create a unified call for bird friendly practices both on-site and across the 10 million hectares of global coffee lands.

To become a bird friendly champion and co-create a Bird Friendly action plan for your institution, contact SAFE NAS Co-Chair Sara Hallager at

Photo Credit: © Eric Petersen, Utah's Hogle Zoo

Justine Bowe is the program manager, Smithsonian Bird Friendly Certification, North American Songbird SAFE Bird Friendly© Coffee Advisor.

Dr. Ruth Bennett is a research fellow at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.

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