Birds were studied at 57 sites in Mountain Ash forests in the Central Highlands of Victoria, Australia in spring and summer 1995/96. The sites represented 41 patches of old-growth forest (up to 390 ha in size) in a matrix of regrowth mostly from severe fires in 1939 (57 years previously), with multiple sites in the four largest patches of old-growth and eight sites in 1939 regrowth. Relative bird abundance was assessed by an area-search technique. Generalized linear modelling was used to develop predictive models by regressing abundance of groups of bird species against patch size, isolation and some basic habitat and context variables. Total bird abundance (of all species combined) tended to be higher in old-growth patches than in 1939 regrowth, but not significantly. There was no trend in total abundance with patch size or isolation. Fruit-eating birds tended to be commonest in small patches. Bark-foragers and uncommon birds favoured large patches, though the latter were most common in 1939 regrowth. More variation was explained by habitat and context variables such as aspect, altitude and forest structure. Unevenaged forest structure was often associated with small patches. It was concluded that old-growth forest patches can have similar values per hectare for forest birds whether they are large or small. The regrowth forest matrix appears to protect small patches from factors which reduce densities of forest birds in small forest patches in farmland. The data support the current policy of retaining all old-growth ash forest patches. A range of factors should be considered in selecting regrowth stands of various sizes to regrow as old forest of the future, including their intrinsic potential to develop particular habitats and produce a mix of forest stuctures in the landscape.