A Blackburnian Warbler in a coffee bush on a shade-coffee farm in Colombia. Photo credit: Guillermo Santos.

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In the last few decades, the coffee market has seen the development of a wide range of coffee certifications. These certifications establish various environmental and social standards in the coffee production process, and coffee certified as having been produced under the standards can be sold with a label that indicates adherence to environmental or social practices. This market-based system capitalizes on consumers’ growing interest in the environmental, social, and economic aspects of the products they buy. One such certification is Smithsonian Bird Friendly® coffee, which has stringent environmental requirements to specifically ensure certified farms maintain quality habitat for a range of wildlife including birds. Birdwatchers, who care about birds and often participate in conservation efforts, may be good targets for bird-friendly coffee and other certified coffee.

Using a survey of coffee-drinking birdwatchers who are members or donors to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, we assessed birdwatchers’ familiarity with, receptivity to, and barriers to purchasing bird-friendly coffee. We found that birdwatchers were not very familiar with bird-friendly coffee and very few were purchasing it; however, they indicated they want to purchase coffee grown with bird-friendly practices. Our respondents also wanted their coffee to have other environmental and social justice attributes, indicating birdwatchers’ interest in conservation extends beyond just birds. Barriers to bird-friendly coffee purchases were birdwatchers’ lack of knowledge about coffee certifications, where to buy bird-friendly coffee, and the impact coffee production practices have on birds, pointing to a need for better communication in these areas. Respondents also highly valued the flavour and aroma of their typical coffee and expressed a reluctance to switch away from it, suggesting marketing campaigns may need to stress the high quality and flavour of bird-friendly coffee. There is also likely a need for more widespread distribution of bird-friendly coffee and information about where to find bird-friendly coffee.

Overall, our results suggest that birdwatchers may be a good target for certified coffee but there are several key barriers to overcome first.

A birdwatcher observes birds while drinking bird-friendly, shade-grown coffee. Photo credit: Jenna McCullough.