Community ecologists have attempted to explain species abundance distribution (SAD) shape for more than 80 years, but usually without relating SAD shape explicitly to ecological variables. We explored whether the scale (total assemblage abundance) and shape (assemblage evenness) of avifaunal SADs were related to ecological covariates. We used data on avifaunas, in-site habitat structure and landscape context that were assembled from previous studies; this amounted to 197 transects distributed across 16,000 km(2) of the box-ironbark forests of southeastern Australia. We used Bayesian conditional autoregressive models to link SAD scale and shape to these ecological covariates. Variation in SAD scale was relatable to some ecological covariates, especially to landscape vegetation cover and to tree height. We could not find any relationships between SAD shape and ecological covariates. SAD shape, the core component in SAD theory, may hold little information about how assemblages are governed ecologically and may result from statistical processes, which, if general, would indicate that SAD shape is not useful for distinguishing among theories of assemblage structure.