1 Bird species numbers were studied on 109 reed islands at Lake Velence, Hungary, in the 1993 and 1994 breeding seasons. The aim was to describe and account for the abundance and distribution patterns of the bird species.
2 It was expected that an exponential model would fit the calculated species–area curves. However, for the 1993 data, both the power function (LogS ~ LogArea) and the exponential (S ~ LogArea) models did so, while the power function, exponential and linear (S ~ A) models fitted the curves for the 1994 data.
3 The results showed that the pattern was not random: a collection of small islands held more species than a few large islands with the same total area.
4 The relative species richness of small islands is a result of the preference of most common passerine bird species for the edges of reed islands. Most individuals were found in the first 5 m of the reedbed, and no edge avoidance was detected on a local spatial scale. Large, rarer species (e.g. Great White Egret), however, were found to be dependent on large reed islands.
5 Comparison of results with two other studies on bird communities of reed islands revealed that the type of landscape matrix (e.g. deep water, shallow water or agricultural lands) among reed patches significantly influences bird communities. Deep water was dominated by grebes and coot, shallow water by reed-nesting passerines, and farmed areas by reed- and bush-nesting passerines.