Date of this Version
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Division of Migratory Bird Management (July 2001).
It is the outright loss of habitat as a result of human population growth and development that is chiefly responsible for bird population declines. Where development is necessary, however, people can make choices to minimize the impacts to wildlife. A notable example is traditional coffee plantations, where coffee shrubs are grown under a canopy of diverse trees. These tropical farms harbor an abundance of birds, including some of the prettiest songbirds that arrive in North America each spring.
Where does coffee come from?
Coffee plants evolved as understory shrubs in the forests of Ethiopia and the Sudan. As people discovered the stimulating beverage made from the seeds of the coffee fruit (coffee “beans”), the cultivation of coffee spread globally, first to the Middle East, then to Europe, and by the 18th century, to Latin America. Coffee thrived in the New World, and since World War II, Mexico, Central America, and northern South America have produced one-third to two-thirds of the world’s coffee.
Until recently, most coffee in the Americas was grown in the shade, in keeping with coffee’s wild ancestry. On shade farms, coffee is grown under existing forest cover, or more often, under a cover of trees expressly planted by the farmer. In addition to shade, the tree cover provides protection from damaging storms and contributes to soil quality. Trees help to hold soil in place, and the roots of some trees fix nitrogen in the soil, while fallen leaves provide a natural mulch. The trees also offer shelter for pest-eating predators and a source of additional forest products, such as fruits, wood, vegetables, nuts, and medicinal plants.