March 2 (UPI) -- More people are birding than ever before, and conservationists want to take advantage of that widespread enthusiasm by turning birders on to bird-friendly coffee.
According to a new paper published in the journal People and Nature, most birders don't know what bird-friendly coffee is and how it can help bird populations.
"We know bird-watchers benefit from having healthy, diverse populations of birds, and they tend to be conservation-minded folks," study co-author Ashley Dayer said in a news release.
"My colleagues and I wanted to dig into this key audience to determine their interest in bird-friendly coffee," said Dayer, an assistant professor of wildlife conservation at Virginia Tech.
For North American birders, spotting feathered friends is a bit harder than it used to be. Since 1970, researchers estimate roughly one in four birds have disappeared -- a decline of 2.9 billion birds.
Driven by habitat losses, pollution and other types of ecological degradation, declines in bird populations are being recorded all over the globe. Habitat losses are especially pronounced in the tropics, where much of the world's coffee is grown.
Traditionally, coffee is grown in the shade of tropical tree canopies, but across Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean, many of the largest coffee growers have adopted treeless, full-sun operations.
Increasingly, coffee farms have taken on the appearance of the industrialized monoculture farms the stretch across large swaths of North America.
"Over recent decades, most of the shade coffee in Latin America has been converted to intensively managed row monocultures devoid of trees or other vegetation," said co-author Amanda Rodewald.
"As a result, many birds cannot find suitable habitats and are left with poor prospects of surviving migration and successfully breeding," said Rodewald, senior director of the Center for Avian Population Studies at the Cornell Lab Ornithology.
The authors of the new study suggest bird-loving coffee-drinkers can help reverse this trend, or at least help farmers that are working hard to protect bird habitat.
When researchers surveyed birders about the kinds of coffee they buy, they found the majority of the more than 900 respondents didn't know about the bird-friendly coffee. Only four in ten respondents knew about shade-grown coffee, and fewer than 10 percent of respondents said they bought bird-friendly coffee.
"One of the most significant constraints to purchasing bird-friendly coffee among those surveyed was a lack of awareness," said lead study author Alicia Williams.
"This includes limits on understanding what certifications exist, where to buy bird-friendly coffee, and how coffee production impacts bird habitat," said Williams, a former research assistant at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Virginia Tech.
Researchers hope to link conservation groups and growers of bird-friendly coffee to raise awareness about the plight of birds in the tropics and the environmental benefits of shade-grown coffee.