Full disclosure: Sandy Pinto, Audubon's indefatigable licensing director, who brought you those adorable plush bird toys, promised she would give me a few bags of our new brand of coffee if I plugged it in the magazine. She knows I'm an easy mark; the supply I bought a few months ago is running perilously low. I admit it. I greet every morning by downing several of the 300 million cups of coffee Americans drink each day. Lately I've been brewing, in my old-fashioned electric percolator, Audubon's brand because it tastes good and, more important, because I care about the birds living on the Mexican farm where our coffee is grown (see "Made in the Shade").

Travel writing of the kind featured in this issue transports you to places you dream of visiting. Who wouldn't want to venture into one of the jaguar's greatest strongholds, a reserve in Belize (see "Top Cat"), for a chance—however remote—to see one of the Western Hemisphere's top predators? What a thrill it must be to stand in the Panama Canal Zone's uncut forests as Swainson's and broad-winged hawks move southbound at a rate of more than 40 per minute, nearly turning the sky black (see "The Route to Prosperity").

It may come as a surprise, but the Finca Irlanda coffee farm in southern Mexico is also a crucial refuge for birds and wildlife, because its crops grow beneath the rainforest's dense canopy. Hence a term you may have heard: "shade-grown" coffee. In winter, on a shade-grown-coffee farm, it's not unusual to be serenaded by the dozens of North American migratory species, from western tanagers to Baltimore orioles, that spend the season there. These birds wouldn't stand a chance on a conventional coffee farm. Today almost all of the world's crop is cultivated in full sun, on giant plantations that have been completely cleared of trees. This "intensive" production supports 94 percent to 97 percent fewer species than shade-grown-coffee farms.

In all honesty, until recently, my coffee habit was hastening the demise of birds I love to watch and hear while they're in this country. Now that I know better, I can never again drink another cup without considering the consequences. Neither should you. Even if it's the only conservation step you ever take, I urge you to switch to one of the many brands of certified organic, shade-grown coffee and to demand your favorite retailers do so as well. This is one righteous product. Write me a letter letting me know how you like it. I'll forever sing your praises—as will that American redstart in your backyard this summer.

© 2004 National Audubon Society

Sound off! Send a letter to the editor about this piece.

Enjoy Audubon on-line? Check out our print edition!