Working together in chiapas
The Birds and the Beans
CI Connection CI is funding research in the El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve in Chiapas — where the study of birds on shade-grown coffee farms will inform better coffee-growing practices. With Starbucks, lessons learned are being applied around the world.
September 30, 2011
Over the last century, much of the forest in the Sierra Madre de Chiapas has been destroyed, primarily to make way for agriculture and the establishment of coffee plantations.
But for bird species endemic to the region, shade-grown coffee farms offer sanctuary. There, birds provide valuable services like controlling insects and dispersing seeds. This helps farmers to produce coffee more sustainably — which not only helps to safeguard the forest canopy both farmers and birds rely on, but also is proving to be an important method for addressing global climate change at the local level.
One such bird, standing out even among the vast natural riches of the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, is the resplendent quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinn). No less an authority than Roger Tory Peterson, the father of the modern field guide, has called it "the most spectacular bird in the New World."
By any measure, it is a remarkable bird. Brilliantly colored in shimmering green, blue and red, the males of this pigeon-sized species sport tails with streaming plumes that can reach 3 feet in length.
But now, though it once was held sacred by the ancient Mayans and Aztecs, the resplendent quetzal faces an uncertain future. Its numbers have been in decline, the result of both hunting and the destruction of its montane cloud forest habitat.
"When I see that the forest is destroyed, I am saddened," says Luis Solís, a bird expert who patrols the forests of Chiapas, discouraging hunting by local residents. "I know that it is home to different types of birds, mammals and insects and when this happens, they disappear." (Follow Solís on his rounds through the forests in the video above.)
Birds of a Feather
Of the nearly 400 bird species found in the cloud forests of Chiapas, more than 100 are so-called neo-tropical migrants — birds like warblers, thrushes and orioles that breed in the U.S. and Canada and spend the winter in the warmer climes of Latin America.
See the birds »
And that has repercussions well beyond the home of the quetzal.
Of the nearly 400 bird species found in the cloud forests of Chiapas, more than 100 are so-called neo-tropical migrants — birds like warblers, thrushes and orioles that breed in the U.S. and Canada and spend the winter in the warmer climes of Latin America. There, the mixed landscape of traditional, shade-grown coffee farms is second only to undisturbed tropical forest for the quantity and diversity of bird species it supports.
Like their southerly neighbors, these familiar birds contribute to the healthy ecosystems of shade-grown coffee farms. They, too, suffer the consequences of habitat loss when standing forests are cleared to produce sun-grown coffee. This clear-cutting of forests has led not only to the decline of bird species in coffee-growing regions, but the decline of populations of birds that breed thousands of miles away in North America as well. Moreover, it also releases an enormous amount of carbon into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.
The lesson of the birds and the beans is simple: Everything is connected, even if the connections aren't readily apparent.
Here Today, Guan Tomorrow
The horned guan (Oreophasis derbianus) is a peculiar, turkey-like bird — black-and-white with a distinctive red horn of bare skin that sits atop its head and gives the species its colorful name. For its unique physical appearance alone, it would be sought by birders; because of its endangered status, it is an especially prized species.