We surveyed birds in cacao (Theobroma cacao) plantations in the state of Tabasco, Mexico. The shade canopy was planted by farmers and consisted of approximately 60 species of trees with no single dominant species. Canopy height averaged 15 m and the structure was multi-storied. We conducted 220 ten minute, 25 m radius point counts for birds and detected 1550 individuals from 81 species. The average number of birds/point and the expected diversity in a fixed number of individuals within the cacao surveyed were well within the range of other lowland habitats, including agricultural sites, that we have surveyed previously in neighbouring Chiapas. In the Tabascan cacao, the migrant group was composed, in part, of forest species, and dimorphic species were represented primarily by males, which in other areas are known to dominate forest or forest-like habitats. In contrast to the composition of migrant species, we found few resident forest specialists in Tabascan cacao. Instead, the tropical resident group was composed of large-bodied generalist species that use small patches of trees in open habitats. These results (moderate diversity, low numbers of forest specialists) differ from the few studies completed in ‘rustic’ cacao systems located near large tracts of forest. The planted shade cacao agroecosystem – at least in the absence of nearby forest – may have a limited value for conserving lost tropical forest bird diversity, but it provides habitat for woodland-associated migratory species. Our results also indicate that the planted shade cacao plantations supported few small omnivorous or frugivorous species, probably because cacao itself, as well as the dominant shade trees, produce primarily mammal or wind dispersed fruit and seeds.