Forest communities, defined by the size and configuration of cover types and stand ages, have commonly been used as proxies for the abundance or viability of wildlife populations. However, for community types to succeed as proxies for species abundance, several assumptions must be met. We tested these assumptions for birds in an Oregon forest environment. Measured habitat was a weak proxy for species abundance and vegetation cover type was a weak proxy for habitat, explaining only 4% of the variance in species abundance. The adequacy of forest community types as habitat proxies was highly dependent on classification rules and the spatial scales at which communities were defined. Habitat was perceived differently by species guilds and a single, generalized characterization of habitat is therefore unlikely to provide a reliable basis for multi-species conservation efforts. Given the weak relations between forest vegetation and species abundance, evaluation of landscape pattern is unlikely to be an effective replacement for the direct monitoring of species population size and distribution.