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Growing Coffee and Preserving Bird Habitat

[photo:] Researchers doing a point count for wintering golden-winged and blue-winged warblers.Most forest birds that breed in the Northeastern United States are Neotropical migrants that make a long flight to Latin America or the Caribbean to overwinter before heading back north for another breeding season.  Over the past 50 years there have been concerns by scientists about declines in migrant bird populations, but studying migrants requires understanding the needs of these birds throughout their full annual cycle, including during the overwintering period.    

Research Wildlife Biologist Dave King of the Northern Research Station has been involved for over 20 years in a partnership with a growing number of hosts representing several agencies and organizations all working toward finding ways to conserve migrant bird habitat in Latin America, where tropical forests are being cleared for development including coffee plantations.

One of King’s current projects involves working with Honduran coffee producers to develop market based mechanisms to conserve forest habitat for migratory birds within working landscapes.   The Mesoamerican Development Institute (MDI) is a key partner in this effort. Based in Lowell MA, they were responsible for the original concept of this market-based forest conservation system, which has subsequently been validated as a conservation strategy for wintering migrants by King’s research.

“Birding Coffee” is a local producer group that has also been a key partner in this work. These coffee producers provide key expertise on coffee production, and share a commitment to conservation, concern about diminishing water supplies, and a vision of a coffee producing and production system that promotes local livelihoods as well as conserves the environment.


The Forest Service has partnered with many organizations over the years to help protect Neotropical migratory bird habitat in Central America.

Acres of Forest Affected
One NRS Research Scientist
Active National Forests Involved
Base Annual Budget of SILVAH



Through the various partnerships, connections have been made with local farmers, scientists, and conservation organizations resulting in:

  • Design and construction of a hybrid-solar coffee drier that reduces deforestation by eliminating the use of wood for drying coffee
  • Establishment of 20 Integrated Open Canopy (“IOC”) coffee farms, which conserve forest patches equal to or greater than the area planted in coffee, totaling 422 acres of forest habitat
  • Sale of $55,600 worth of above-ground carbon stocks in IOC forests totaling 6,995 metric tons of CO2 per year
  • Two PhD dissertations, two master’s theses, and 29 peer-reviewed manuscripts and one book chapter.
  • Scores of professional presentations and workshops to international audiences
  • Establishing a network of coffee producers and representatives of municipal and federal agencies in Honduras
  • Training paraprofessionals including local coffee producers in bird sampling techniques.
  • Development of protocols to gather data on bird populations in the region and generating baseline data


  • The Mesoamerican Development Institute has established contacts with municipal and federal agencies in Honduras that will be key to scaling up these forest-conserving practices, not only for the interest of bird habitat but also because conversion of forest to coffee threatens their water supplies.
  • Newly minted graduate students from universities in Honduras and the U.S. are gaining experience in a wider varieties of research methodologies as well as analyzing data on bird abundance in Integrated Open Coffee (IOC) production areas and other habitats in the Honduras.  This will ensure continued monitoring and conservation of habitat.

Lessons Learned

  • Likeminded people and organizations working toward a common goal can achieve great things
  • In efforts to engage in habitat conservation, especially in poor countries, it is crucial to consider the needs of local people for making a livelihood, so that whatever solution is developed is a win-win.

Partner Organizations

  • The Mesoamerican Development Institute
  • Birding Coffee S.A.
  • University of Massachusetts
  • National Autonomous University of Honduras in Tegucigalpa
  • The Migratory Bird Program at USFS International Programs
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • The American Bird Conservancy
  • Tulane University
  • Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: July 31, 2019