Living the Seven Simple Actions to Help Birds

A new year, a new beginning. As you can read in the Spotlight on the Observatory, this is certainly true for the Observatory with the significant expansions of our two pillar projects this year. 

On a personal level, I am trying to live my life more consistently with my values in 2023 (the same goal I have been working on for years), including making the world a better place for birds, pollinators, water, and broadly, the environment. To that end, I want to share my experiences with “Living the 7 Simple Actions,” a new and recurring social media and newsletter series, chronicling my successes and failures in making my life work with bird-friendly actions.  I welcome others to share their experiences as well on Facebook or in future articles. 

As a biologist who is learning behavioral change science, I am trying to capitalize on the Fresh Start Effect, the phenomenon that people are more likely to take action toward a goal after a life or temporal landmark that represents a new beginning. If you can’t build a system that supports this change, it is often hard to maintain, but the Fresh Start Effect can get you going.   

To simplify this broad goal for living life, I chose to focus on the Seven Simple Actions to Help BirdsFor those unfamiliar with Cornell University’s Seven Simple Actions to Help Birds, here they are:

  1. Make Windows Safer, Day and Night
  2. Keep Cats Indoors
  3. Reduce Lawn, Plant Native Plants
  4. Avoid Pesticides (my personal addition: avoid fertilizer)
  5. Drink Coffee That’s Good for Birds
  6. Protect Our Planet from Plastic
  7. Participate in Community Science

My goal for this project is to share our struggles with doing the right thing in the real world and to demystify some of the ways we can make it easier and more livable given the constraints we all have.  

I’m deciding to tackle bird-safe coffee first. Who doesn’t love piping hot coffee during these chilly January mornings? Cocoa drinkers, heads up there is bird-friendly certified hot cocoa as well. Tea drinkers, sorry, nothing for you yet. 

Bird-safe coffee is coffee that has been certified to follow a set of standards developed by the Smithsonian to ensure that the coffee is grown in a way that offers habitat to birds by growing coffee under an overstory of trees, mimicking the layers of natural habitats.

As a student of behavior change science, I started by making a list of my barriers to buying bird-friendly coffee. While other folks likely have other barriers, mine came down to a rather basic way I live my life: I go grocery shopping when I run out of food (read as: we only have condiments and cans). I’m not a big planner when it comes to my house. It feels like my brain uses all of its planning power for work, my garden, and my vacations, with little left over to other things, like making sure we have food to survive and forecasting when we will need our next bag of coffee. 

This is a problem regarding the typical ways of finding bird-friendly coffee. Pull up any bird-friendly coffee website and it gives you lists of where you can buy coffee online unless you are one of the lucky few that have a local retailer (none are listed in Wisconsin on the Smithsonian’s Map). Instead, there are an overwhelming number of options, all days to weeks away. That is not going to cut it for my just-in-time style of shopping. 

So, what’s a busy but motivated bird nerd going to do? Be “that” person that everyone avoids at local grocery stores (of course). I sat down on the floor of the Meijer coffee aisle and looked at every single bag of coffee to see if any had the Bird Friendly Seal, a certification offered by the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. My husband would not support me in this step and wandered away, while pretending not to know me. Forty bags in, I found one (Café Fair for only $8.99, well within the range of other “premium coffees”). 

Combined with curbside pick-up, bird-friendly coffee has become a part of my busy life that doesn’t need much thought or planning, addressing my primary barrier. For anyone considering making the switch to bird-friendly coffee, think about the barriers keeping you from doing it- lack of knowledge, hassle of getting it, cost, etc. These barriers are specific to you and can be anything (no judgement). Then, think about how you can address them. Without addressing them, it is difficult and more taxing mentally to make changes and turn the Fresh Start Effect into long-term change. 

I would like to offer a challenge to our readers: Find stores that carry bird-friendly coffee on their shelves. So far, I have found Festival Foods, Meijer, and Sendik’s. We are going to make a map to share stores where you can immediately pick up bird-friendly coffee. Still, we need more options before we do that.  On Monday, January 16, we will be posting a call for all bird-friendly coffee locations to be on Facebook. Please add any you know of. Together we can lower the barriers to drinking bird-friendly coffee!