Birders’ Exchange and the Coffee Reserve Project

There is some fantastic habitat conservation work going on in the Neotropics, and Birders’ Exchange is helping – with your continued support.  We always seek financial and equipment donations, but you can also help birds by buying organic, shade-grown coffees, such as ABA’s Song Bird Coffee. Mesoamerican coffee farms are situated in some of the most biologically-rich areas on earth.

In many regions, uncultivated wooded areas ― the “Back 40” of the properties― are some of the only forested habitat left; when left unprotected, trees are felled for lumber and firewood, and animals are shot for food and sport. Within these farms however, forests are generally well-maintained and defended against degradation, often for watershed protection or for aesthetic reasons. Using these practices, farms protect forests along with their rich wildlife communities.

Supporting these ideas, a new initiative, the CoffeeReserve Project began in 2006 by Dan Cooper of Cooper Ecological Monitoring, Inc. (CEM, Inc.) The CoffeeReserve Project is not a coffee certification program, but seeks instead to document, publicize, and promote ecologically intact tropical forest currently protected by landowners.  In addition, they promote global private land biodiversity throughout the tropics by conducting ecological audits of coffee farms in Mesoamerica. Currently, coffee certification labeling (organic, shade-grown, bird-friendly, etc.) is given without a wildlife survey.  Only after ground-truthing each plantation will biologists be able to evaluate the benefits of planting shade trees for threatened bird species and other wildlife.

The CoffeeReserve Project hopes to promote the importance of intact forest patches on coffee farms by combining research and nature-based tourism.

The CoffeeReserve Project conducted preliminary surveys in 2006−2007 on several fincas and found a wide variety of threatened wildlife there. One of the rarest birds in Central America, Azure-rumped Tanager, considered “Endangered” by BirdLife International, was found to be common in Finca Dos Marias’ forests in southwest Guatemala. Highland Guan is restricted to Mesoamerica, and CEM documented small numbers on several coffee fincas in Chiapas, MX, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. The spectacular Three-wattled Bellbird was found to be common on farms in northern Nicaragua, with Selva Negra supporting numerous pairs of what may be an isolated race of this Central American endemic.  Most fincas surveyed in Chiapas and Nicaragua supported Golden-winged Warblers, a Neotropical migrant wintering in evergreen forests of Central and northwestern South America. All these species were typically found in remnant forest patches.

Dan Cooper and Andrew Farnsworth (Cornell Lab of Ornithology) developed a conservation award, to be presented annually to recognize farms making significant contributions to global biodiversity preservation in Mesoamerican countries. The award funds will be used to further meaningful, science-based conservation practices on the award-winning farms. The group envisions these model farms being featured in trade publications (both coffee- and bird/nature-related) and in the marketplace (on labels, etc.), providing an economic incentive for farmers to maintain on-farm forest habitat and to better document their wildlife conservation contributions.

The Coffee Conservation Award is a joint venture between Cooper Ecological Monitoring, Inc., Roast Magazine, and the American Birding Association through its Birders’ Exchange program. Ideally, local non-profit conservation groups will survey coffee fincas with coordination by CEM, Inc.


Birders’ Exchange is looking forward to seeing the results of this conservation initiative on private lands in Central American coffee country.  Your donations to Birders’ Exchange have already been distributed to several coffee-related projects, including those at Selva Negra Lodge in Nicaragua, where they documented endemic birds such as Blue-tailed Hummingbird, Green-breasted Mountain-Gem, Bushy-crested Jay, and Rufous-browed Wren; vulnerable species like Keel-billed Motmot and Three-wattled Bellbird; and the near-threatened Great Curassow, Painted Bunting, and Golden-winged Warbler. The next time you travel to Mesoamerica please contact BEX and offer to serve as a courier for equipment donations, and while there visit a coffee finca, and let them know about the Coffee Conservation Award.