Clothesline in Winter

Clothesline in Winter

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Bird That Made Your Morning Coffee

Erik Sandvig
Special Young Writers Report
By Erik Sandvig, Chilean avian specialist

When you buy a bag of coffee, you probably aren’t thinking about the birds which made it possible.  And you might not know that you can do a lot to assure that these creatures survive and thrive to continue their vital service to the earth’s ecosystems.

But you can.  Here’s the story.

It’s not easy to put a dollar sign on birds. But in a world that’s dominated by economics, it’s important to quantify the worth of the ecological processes provided to us (for free) by plants and animals. We refer to them as ecosystem services, like water catchment and filtration by forests, pollination by bees and pest control by birds, just to name a few. 

Ecosystem services have tremendous value to our economy. But in most cases they aren’t accounted for, let alone quantified.  Yet birds are present in almost all ecosystems on earth and thus have a tremendous impact on all sorts of ecological processes happening around us.

Ecosystem services are divided into four categories. Provisioning services provide food, clothing, medicines, tools, or other uses. Cultural services provide recreational opportunities, inspiration for art and music, and spiritual value. Regulating services include pest control and carcass removal. Supporting services, such as pollination, seed dispersal, water purification, and nutrient cycling, provide processes essential for ecological communities and agricultural ecosystems.

Ecosystem services provided by birds aren’t usually the first to come to mind when we think of components of nature that might make sense to factor into the economic equation. The first guess you might have is forests or wetlands, that seem to be shown on the news ever so often. We are told that they catch water and prevent flooding, filter and purify water and prevent erosion. It’s true that these are probably some of the most important services to our economy, but let’s not forget about the ones that pass under the radar.

Red-billed Streamertail protects Jamaican coffee
To illustrate the value that birds have on just one specific business, consider a coffee plantation in Jamaica. It turns out that birds provide coffee growers with vital assistance. Recent studies in Jamaica (see one here ) indicate that birds reduce pest populations, increase saleable fruit, and boost farm income. The studies indicate that birds boosted farm income by as much as $310 per acre/per year. Undoubtedly this can really make a difference to a family or coop-owned farm.

The fact that most ecosystem services aren’t taken into consideration in our economy just goes to show how disconnected we are from reality and how man-made systems have taken over our lives, excluding nature and its fundamental principles. We are stewards of the earth and must guarantee the wellbeing of all creation.

Next time you buy a bag of coffee, a good idea would be to support companies that buy their beans from tree covered plantations (shade grown) that maintain bird diversity like Birds and Bean (

Thousands of daily choices we make may help or harm the creatures and systems we depend on.  Your choices could preserve and save valuable birds.

Erik Sandvig
Valdivia Chile

Note:  Erik Sandvig is the first of the Clothesline Report Young Writer contributors.  Thank you, Erik, for this excellent and informative piece.  We look forward to hearing from you again!

J. Elwood


  1. Very informative. A great read! Thanks for the post Erik!

  2. Excellent post, Erik, thank you for the perspective and advice you shared - Ben (Not One Sparrow, a Christian voice for animals)