Plantations of non-native, fast-growing trees are increasing in the tropics and subtropics, perhaps with negative consequences for the native avifauna. We studied bird diversity in 4 types of plantations in South China to determine which plantation types are especially detrimental, and compared our findings with studies in nearby natural forests to assess the magnitude of the negative impact. A total of 57 species was recorded. The mean capture rate of understory birds was 1.7 individuals 100-net-h–1. Bird richness and capture rate were lower in plantations than in nearby natural forests. Babblers (Timaliidae), primarily forest-dependent species in South China, were particularly under-represented in plantations. Species richness, composition and bird density, particularly of understory birds, differed between plantation types. Plantations of Schima, which is native to South China, had the highest species richness according to point count data. Plantations of Acacia (non-native) supported the highest understory species richness and produced the highest capture rate of understory birds, probably because of their complex structure and high arthropod abundance. If bird diversity is to be considered, we strongly recommend that future re-afforestation projects in South China should, as far as possible, use mixed native tree species, and especially Schima, ahead of the other species.