Increasing housing density is an important component of global land transformation, with major impacts on patterns of biodiversity. However, while there have been many studies of the changes in biodiversity across rural–urban gradients, which are influenced in large part by housing densities, how biodiversity changes across the full range of regional variation in housing density remains poorly understood. Here, we explore these relationships for the richness and abundance of breeding birds across Britain. Total richness, and that of 27 urban indicator species, increased from low to moderate household densities and then declined at greater household densities. The richness of all species increased initially faster with household density than did that of the urban indicator species, but nonurban indicator species richness declined consistently after peaking at a very low housing density. Avian abundance showed a rather different pattern. Total abundance and that summed across all urban indicator species increased over a wide range of household densities, and declined only at the highest household densities. The abundance of individual urban indicator species generally exhibited a hump-shaped relationship with housing density. While there was marked intraspecific variation in the form of such relationships, almost invariably avian abundance declined at housing densities below that at which the UK government requires new developments to be built. Our data highlight the difficulties of maintaining biodiversity while minimising land take for new development. High-density housing developments are associated with declines in many of those species otherwise best able to exploit urban environments, and those components of native biodiversity with which human populations are often most familiar.