Shade Grown Coffee Provides Bird Habitat


Coffee, it has been argued, was at least partly responsible for the Industrial Revolution, and it is the morning wake up brew of choice for millions of Americans today. It is also our second largest legal import from Latin America, oil being the first. Coffee grows in middle altitude tropical forests; that is, in some of the most biologically diverse places in the world. These forests are important not only as winter habitat for North American birds, but as repositories of the many different forms of life that are now with us. Fortunately, coffee plantations can be relatively environmentally benign. The coffee plant is quite happy to grow in the shade of taller trees, out of the intense tropical sun, while other tropical crops such as corn and cattle and lumber leave clear cuts in their path. Traditional shade coffee plantations co-exist with substantial remnants of tropical forests and most of the migratory birds that spend the winter in tropical forests can also use shade coffee plantations.

Over one hundred species of birds fly from North America to Central and South America for the winter. Some birds make relatively short trips while others make nearly epic journeys. The Baltimore Oriole will fly from our eastern seaboard states to Central America for winter sun and fun, while some swallows fly from North America to Brazil and Argentina, several thousand miles each way. Many populations of neotropical migratory birds have declined in the last thirty years, in some cases dramatically, and loss of their winter habitat is almost certainly one of the main reasons for their decline.

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