BIRD WATCHER’S DIGEST • JULY/AUGUST ’ 17 • birdwatchersdigest.com 15
flowered Erythrina, or flame tree,
grew head-high coffee shrubs,
heavy with bright red “cherries”
ready to be picked. This is the
way coffee has been grown in
Latin America for generations,
providing a livelihood for small
family farms, while also providing crucial habitat for both
resident birds, including motmots, parrots, and toucans, and
hundreds of species of migrants
from the North, including vireos,
tanagers, and warblers.
To be clear, the birds aren’t
eating the coffee; frankly, the
notion of a caffeinated warbler
is a little scary. No, the birds
depend on all the other things the
shade-coffee forest provides: nec-
tar, insects, fruit, and much more.
Northern Central America
lies at the very heart of the win-
tering range for most of our
Neotropical migrant songbirds.
For more than a century, coffee
production and birds managed
together very well there—until
coffee producers (especially
large, multinational corpora-
tions) began shifting from shade-
loving arabica varieties to sun-
Left: Almost everything in this photo of the northern
Nicaraguan highlands is Smithsonian-certified shade cof-
fee farms, providing superb bird habitat. Top right: A
foggy morning in the hills near San Juan del Rio Coco.
Bottom right: The village of San Juan del Rio Coco.