In order to assess the potential value of differently managed cacao plantations for bird conservation on Sulawesi, we surveyed birds in near-primary forest (with limited timber and rattan extraction, and some hunting), cacao plantations with remnant forest trees and plantations lacking forest trees, from February to April 2007. A total of 16 50 x 50 m plots were visited twice and records of 87 species were obtained. Bird species richness and the number of endemics and forest specialists decreased along this gradient of forest conversion, with 20% of the forest specialists, among them 10 endemics, exclusively found in forest. Species composition changed dramatically between habitat types. Sørensen indices showed a similarity of species composition between forests and plantations of 45–60% for forest specialists and 65–71% for all species. The most important environmental variable for the diversity and composition of birds was the number of remnant rainforest trees present in the plantations. Our results suggest that large, undisturbed rainforest are most important for the conservation of forest specialists and endemics but that cacao plantations, if managed to maintain a high and diverse cover of forest trees, can harbour up to 60% of forest specialists and endemics.