What do birds and insects have to do with coffee cultivation?

One of the main reasons for the loss of bird species is habitat destruction caused by human activities such as logging, agriculture and mining.

Coffee plantations are part of an ecosystem where we have the opportunity to coexist and adapt to share space with birds, insects and other vegetation. However, large areas are also cleared for the exclusive cultivation of coffee under the open sky and without shade, which is also referred to as sun coffee.

How Can Coffee Help or Harm Birds?

Some farms are compared to forests because of biodiversity and are referred to as agroforestry. These forests contain a more diverse mix of coffee trees and shrubs.

A large number of migratory birds spend the night in the shaded coffee plantations.

Coffee in the shade

Shade coffee is slower to grow than sun coffee and offers lower yields, but benefits in bean quality and biodiversity.

Shade trees protect the coffee trees from rain and sun, help maintain soil quality, and help control pests. The organic matter of shade trees also forms a natural layer of mulch that reduces the need for chemical fertilizers, controls erosion and provides essential nutrients to the soil.

Migratory birds and coffee cultures

Amid the change and reduction in their habitats, migratory birds have found refuge in the forests of traditional coffee plantations.

Even in heavily disturbed areas, coffee plantations support good populations of migratory birds and other species that prefer or are restricted to forest habitats, such as Redstarts, blackcaps, yellow-throated vireos and sunbirds, as well as resident birds such as parrots, trogons, woodcocks, toucans and nuthatches.

Ongoing studies show that coffee plantations are often critical refugia, protecting forest species where forests no longer exist.

Conservation of migratory birds depends on maintaining their habitats, but parks and reserves alone do not provide adequate space for their protection. The fate of migratory birds and other widespread species depends on the quality of human-managed habitats. The health of temperate and tropical ecosystems depends on the annual migrations of billions of birds, and shady coffee plantations play an important role in this.

Sun coffee

Today, most coffee sold is grown in the sun, with little or no shade, because the sun allows coffee trees to grow faster and produce more coffee. This loss of forest biodiversity in favor of monocultures and row crops harms both local and migratory birds living in the forest.

While this form of cultivation results in significantly higher yields, these cannot be sustained for many years without intensive management, which includes the addition of chemical fertilizers and a range of insecticides, herbicides and fungicides. In addition, in environments with a pronounced dry season, they die prematurely and require renewal, that is, replacement of plants, much more often than shaded varieties.

The few studies that have been done so far have found that migratory bird diversity decreases as coffee moves from the shade to the sun. One study found a drop from 10 to 4 common migratory bird species. In other studies, 94 to 97% fewer bird species were found in sun coffee than in shade coffee.

The shift from shade coffee to sun coffee also appears to result in increased soil erosion, acidification, and larger volumes of toxic runoff. In addition, the switch to sun coffee leads to the loss of trees that serve as “insurance crops” for the grower, e.g. B. Firewood, timber, citrus and other fruit trees.

Bird friendly coffee

Bird Friendly Coffee is a trademark for coffee grown on farms that provide beneficial habitat for birds. Rather than being grown on bare farms, Bird Friendly coffees are planted under a canopy of trees that provide shelter, food and a home for native and migratory birds.

Migratory Bird Center, Bird Friendly certification indicates that the company maintains a specified proportion of natural habitat in and around the coffee farm. In addition, they guarantee support for bird habitats, fair and stable prices for coffee producers, a healthy environment for local communities and equal access to markets for coffee producers.

Benefits of birds in coffee plantations

Attracting birds could also be beneficial for coffee growing, as birds attracted to the tree canopy may also protect coffee crops through pest control. The preferred native legumes also provide nitrogen for coffee cultivation and thus increase production.

The bark beetle, for example, is native to Africa but has spread to almost all coffee-growing regions. This insect is immune to most pesticides and can cost farmers up to 75% of their crops. Birds, on the other hand, eat large numbers of beetles.

Beetle-eating birds were more common at sites with lots of nearby forest, and beetle infestation was slightly higher at sites not surrounded by abundant forest.

Rural plots with few insectivorous birds show more damage from pest infestations, while plots closer to fragments of native vegetation show fewer pests. This suggests that greater diversity of insectivorous birds may increase the ecosystem service of coffee pest management.

Insects in coffee cultivation

The coffee plant is able to produce its own fruit by pollinating itself. However, fruit production largely depends on pollination by insects. Bees, considered the main pollinators of coffee, can be responsible for up to 36% of the fruiting.

A study in Colombia found that there are 250 species of insects that may come into contact with the coffee plants during cultivation. These species include beetles, flies, bugs, butterflies, moths, ants, wasps and bees, 88 of which are native bee species.

The results of the study show that they are involved in the pollination of 16% of all Colombian coffee crops. The insect diversity was the result of a combined weed and pest management system and was evident through the minimization of the use of chemicals and pesticides. This kept a greater number of pollinators in the coffee system, resulting in greater floral diversity.

Coffee industry and biological diversity

The price of coffee can also affect biodiversity. As demand increases and prices rise, more forest is cut down to make room for coffee. While coffee growing is not the most damaging land use, it is still not as good for biodiversity as a forest.

This study shows that careful management of coffee plantations, such as B. the careful use of chemicals that can greatly preserve the biodiversity of the coffee system and contribute to a more productive harvest.


More and more coffee consumers expect companies to make an effort to protect the environment and all the resources it contains. In other words, protecting biodiversity in coffee ecosystems can be beneficial for the industry from an economic perspective and contribute to sustainability branding. However, there are still very few shade coffee plantations.

In addition to the animal and plant diversity in organic farming, there are no pesticides that destroy biodiversity. The diversity and harmony found in shady polycultures allow for the formation of relatively complex food webs. Both birds and mammals play an important role in pest control as they eat many herbivorous insects.