Wildlife biologists classify some bird species as early successional because of apparent dependence on early successional vegetation such as forbs, grasses, shrubs, and small trees. We propose that many "early successional" species were more often associated with open forests such as savannas and woodlands, which covered a much greater extent of the eastern United States under historical disturbance regimes than more ephemeral early successional forest. We draw on several lines of evidence, including knowledge of historical ecosystems and disturbance, landscape analyses, and general literature review to evaluate benefits of open forest ecosystems for early successional birds. Early successional forests covered 1-13% of forestlands in the eastern United States prior to Euro-American settlement, whereas open forests covered large extents of the United States. Many early successional songbirds reach great densities in open forests and potentially greater numbers in landscapes with historical amounts of open forest than in present- day landscapes and those under intensive even-aged forest management. Restoration and management of open forests has not been prioritized or well-articulated for management of early successional birds and other species. Although both early successional forests and open forests provide habitat for birds, we suggest the great reduction in the historical extent of open forests needs to be addressed through greater restoration and management of open forests if we want to better meet the needs of some early successional birds and other wildlife.