This study examined the effects of alteration of tropical rainforest vegetation structure and composition on bird community structure and the influence of life-history traits on species persistence in the Kalakad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve, Western Ghats. Systematic sampling for vegetation and point count surveys for birds were carried out in cardamom plantations abandoned for 5 and 15 years, plantation-rainforest edges, a selectively logged forest patch and adjoining undisturbed rainforest sites. Principal components analysis of vegetation variables revealed clear differences between undisturbed and altered sites in woody plant and cane densities, canopy cover and vertical stratification. Bird species richness was lowest in cardamom plantations abandoned for 5 years and highest in logged and undisturbed forest. Bird species richness and similarity with undisturbed forest were significantly positively related to the vegetation component representing woody plant and cane (Calamus spp.) densities. Sites that were more similar in tree species composition had more similar bird communities whereas similarity in foliage profile between sites did not influence bird community similarity. Birds that were rare, were large-bodied and belonged to the carnivore, omnivore, bark-surface feeder and terrestrial insectivore guilds were adversely affected by habitat alteration. Restoring woody plant and cane densities and rainforest floristic composition in disturbed habitats may be required for management and conservation of bird communities typical to the region.