When birders drink Folgers, part 2

by JulieCraves on May 16, 2009

(Part 1 here)

Last Saturday was International Migratory Bird Day. This annual event coincides with the peak of spring migration and is intended to increase awareness of birds and their conservation throughout the Western Hemisphere. Lots of organizations, parks, and refuges have birding events. I was reading about one of these celebrations (I later heard 15,000 people showed up) and the author made this comment on a picture of a throng of birders lined up on the trail: “There is tens of thousands of dollars of camera hardware in this photo, and the total value of optics and camera equipment on the trail would be utterly staggering if it could be tallied.”

I immediately wondered how many of these affluent people spent a few extra bucks to make sure that the coffee they drank supported the birds they were photographing, watching, and enjoying so much.

Probably not that many; I’ve written before about how resistant birders can be to changing their coffee-buying habits. The top reasons I’ve heard over and over are that shade-grown/sustainably-grown coffee is too expensive, or too inconvenient (certified shade coffee, in large part due to lack of demand, can be hard to find). The latter is really related to the former. I can’t imagine anything more easy than ordering coffee online to be delivered to my door, and there is plenty of sustainable coffee available this way. But this adds shipping to the cost, so it again comes down to price.

For the most part, this is a flimsy excuse coming from most active birders. Here are some facts:

  • A 1991 profile [1] of American Birding Association members showed that 46% of members responding to the survey had incomes over $50,000.
  • The same study showed that ABA members spent $3,374 annually on birding, with 74% of that total going toward travel to see birds, and 17% on equipment.
  • Around the same time, a survey of active birders [2] in the general public showed 16% had incomes greater than $50,000 (at a time when the average U.S. income was $20,000).
  • That study provided an annual expenditure per birder of $1,852, of which 71% was travel related.
  • A more recent survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [3] found that 27% of people who lived in households earning greater than $75,000 identified themselves as bird watchers.

I’ve already pointed out that great, sustainably-grown coffee doesn’t actually cost that much on a per cup basis. How about on an annual basis, to put the expense in line with the figures above?

While your mileage may vary, a pound of coffee generally yields about 40 to 45 eight-ounce cups of coffee. If you drink two cups a day, you go through 18 to 20 pounds of coffee a year. If you buy cheap, unsustainable supermarket coffee you probably pay between $5 and $7 a pound. I’m asking you to buy tasty, sustainably-grown coffee from a smaller specialty roaster, at around $10 to $13 a pound, or somewhere around $100 to $150 more a year.

Another report [4] described birders as “… the major, perhaps only, user-group of neotropical migratory birds.” Many of the active birders I know wouldn’t blink an eye at gassing up the car and taking off to see a rare bird hundreds of miles away, and many I know do this several times a year. But they are unwilling to spend the money to make sure those birds are around in years to come. Maybe the goal is to make all birds rare. If so, by drinking cheap coffee, they are doing a good job.

[1] Wauer, R. 1991. Profile of an ABA birder. Birding 23:146-154.

[2] Wiedner, D. S. and P. Kerlinger. 1990. Economics of birding: a national survey of active birders. American Birds 44:209-213.

[3] Birding in the United States: A Demographic and Economic Analysis. Addendum to the 2001 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation (Report 2001-1). 2003. 24 p. (PDF)

[4] Kerlinger, Paul  1993.  Birding economics and birder demographics studies as conservation tools.   In: Finch, Deborah M.; Stangel, Peter W. (eds.). Status and management of neotropical migratory birds: September 21-25, 1992, Estes Park, Colorado. Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-229. Fort Collins, Colo.: Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Forest Service: 32-38.(PDF)

Revised on November 28, 2020

Posted in Background information,Corporate coffee

Brenton Head May 18, 2009 at 12:15 am

Interesting observations. Not only applies to birders with coffee but many, many other areas of consumerism and product. People seem neither to care about HOW they spend their money and it is usually the easiest and cheapest option. My friends are amazed that I buy my Fairtrade Colombian Instant fronm Sydney and my beans from the Thanksgiving Coffee Company in California. I live in South Australia but that is the best I can do rather than buying off the shelves of the supermarkets from the EVIL multinationals. I cannot buy birdfriendly in Australia that I know about. Love your blog. Brenton.

Julie May 18, 2009 at 5:46 am

I know Smithsonian Bird-Friendly coffee is very popular in Japan. I wonder if that might be cheaper shipping to Australia?

Julie May 28, 2009 at 11:55 am

Love this blog! I stumbled upon the feed in Google Reader's recommendations today and I love it. I've always bought Fair Trade Organic Shade Grown Whole Bean Coffee (though sometimes it's hard to find in Lancaster, PA), but just recently while taking a course in Wildlife Conservation became interested in birds and bird watching.

Leopoldo Miranda June 1, 2009 at 7:04 pm

Great editorial and very true. A few months ago I wrote on my blog a "non-scientific" analysis of the cost of drinking regular vs. specialty coffee. take a look:

You can save hundreds of dollars by drinking shade coffee! – Leo

Julie June 1, 2009 at 7:15 pm

I follow your blog, Leo, and you will surely hear from me for help on visiting coffee farms when I finally get to Puerto Rico one of these days!

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