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We censused breeding birds for three years in natural landscape mosaics of virgin old-growth spruce forest and mire in a large protected forest area in northern Sweden Twenty forest patches, ranging from 0 2 to 17 8 ha in size, were selected in two matrix types, dominated by forest and mire, respectively Patches were very similar with regards to habitat features There was a strong effect of patch area on species richness, but no effect of matrix type Standardization of species richness by rarefaction revealed that small patches (<5 ha) had fewer and large patches (>10 ha) more species than expected Overall distribution of species across patches showed a highly significant nested pattern, indicating that a few habitat generalists occupy all size classes, whereas more demanding species avoid small patches regardless of landscape composition Individual species tended to be distributed evenly across patch classes and no significant edge effect in terms of density of birds was found Our results have bearings on actions to preserve avian diversity in northern boreal forests small patches (<5 ha) provide habitat only for habitat generalists, and therefore larger (>10 ha) patches should be preserved