The Europe-wide decline in the populations and diversity of farmland birds has not been stopped despite dedicated conservation efforts such as agri-environment schemes (AES). The main reason for the lack of success of AES is considered to be their low ecological quality and insufficient area. Understanding the effects of different management strategies on the ecological quality of AES is therefore important. Here, we investigate the relationship between breeding bird density and species richness and the age of sown field margins, a widely used type of AES, in southwestern Switzerland. Territories of breeding birds were mapped on 67 field margins between 2004 and 2011. Territory densities (for eight species) and species richness were analysed in relation to age of the field margin. A general negative correlation between size of the field margin and territory density indicated that territory density was higher when the birds could forage in adjacent cultivated land. Territory densities and species richness increased up to an age of 4–6 years after sowing, depending on the species, and declined thereafter. The results suggest that the co-occurrence of newly sown margins and margins over 3 years old will have a positive effect on breeding bird densities and species diversity.