Bird Friendly Beer

I don’t know if there are birds flying (or wobbling) around out in the wild with the same penchant for an ice cold beer many humans crave. There are probably some that would lap it up like college kids on spring break. I would guess most birds are happy enough to just drink water or get much of their moisture from the foods they eat.

Still, bird friendly beer is not as outlandish as you might think. A bird-friendly beer really depends on how you look at beer ingredients and if the brew is made from ingredients that actually helps birds.

When it comes to beer, the birds are in luck. Whether you are a beer fan or not, this may be of interest.

Mass-market beers, and even craft beers, use an assortment of grains. They can include wheat, rye, oats, corn, and rice. Many species of birds can be found in or near fields of these same grains and sometimes use them for nesting cover, for escape cover and of course, when the grain is ripe, birds often help themselves to either the unharvested crops or spilled or shattered grain left over after the pickers or combines harvest the fields.

For the most part, crop fields aren’t the best habitat available, but many species are adaptable. Something is better than nothing. Of all the grains sometimes used in beer breweries one of them surely stands out as bird-friendly: rice.

American rice is the most bird-compatible, mass-produced, popular crop grown in this country and it deserves special consideration. Although the total acreage of rice grown in the United States (around 2.8 million acres) may be less than that used by some other crops - corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, and sorghum, for example - rice is actually critical for many of North America’s wetland birds.

American rice farms, many of them family farms, serve as "surrogate wetlands" to supplement natural wetlands that have decreased over time. Rice production creates a modest but essential replacement ecosystem, helping to replace losses of native wetland habitat. It's important for waterfowl, shorebirds, long-legged waders, rails, and many other species.

Most rice is grown in the US in states with relatively warm climates - Arkansas, Mississippi, California, Louisiana and Missouri. Much of the acreage used to grow rice was once wetland rich and were areas where, historically, migratory wetland birds sought out to over-winter. The native wetlands were replaced by “rice-wetlands” and many species of birds have adapted to using them.

Experts say beer could be made using rice as the only grain ingredient, but it probably would be very bland! Instead, rice used properly in the brewing process, lightens the color and body of beer. Some beer brewers use rice, some don’t.

Most beer drinkers have a favorite brand. Though perhaps not to your own particular taste, pale lager dominates the U.S. beer market and rice or other grains that make beer lighter in taste and color are essential for most makers of pale lager.

In short, there’s a reason few contest Budweiser’s claim on each bottle or can to be the King of Beers or the claim to be the largest selling beer in the world. Currently, Budweiser uses rice in its production. Indeed, the Budweiser bottle labels announce the rice content: "Brewed by our original process from the choicest hops, rice, and best barley malt."

Among the larger brewers, Coors also uses rice, reportedly, less so. Local craft beers breweries continue to grow, many producing a wide variety of beer types and of course many of their pale lagers rely on using rice in their brewing process just as the mass producers do.

So far, no major brand has pitched itself as a bird-friendly beer, but perhaps it's only time before that happens. Consider rice and wetland birds the next time you order up a brew or go shopping for a six-pack.