Abstract The absence of small birds from many suburban areas may be due to adverse garden characteristics, interspecific aggression or human behaviour such as supplementary food provisioning that encourages predators. We investigated the relationship between these factors and the presence of seven small bird species in Sydney through a community-based survey. The survey was conducted by participants over a 7-day period between 7 am and 10 am in November and early December 2000. Three dominant species, the noisy miner (Manorina melanocephala), pied currawong (Strepera graculina) and common myna (Acridotheres tristis) were each present in over 59% of gardens. Each small bird species was present in less than 40% of gardens. All small birds were negatively associated with noisy miners, but only the silvereye (Zosterops lateralis) was negatively associated with pied currawongs. None of the species of small birds was negatively associated with common mynas. Four species of small birds were associated with at least one habitat variable, notably the proportion of native vegetation. Although more birds were recorded in gardens in which meat was provided, there were significantly fewer small birds in these gardens. There were also more birds recorded in gardens where seed was provided, with red-browed finches (Neochmia temporalis) positively associated with seed provisioning in most regions of Sydney. The presence of dogs and cats was not related to the total abundance of birds overall or small birds in gardens. While garden characteristics may influence the presence of small birds to some degree, the presence of noisy miners, a species that are thought to aggressively exclude other species from their territories, is likely to be an important influence on these species in suburban areas. Furthermore, supplementary feeding by people is likely to negatively influence some small birds. The presence of carnivorous pets does not seem to influence the presence of small birds at the scale of the individual garden.