Human driven changes in land-use have increased the need to understand how landscape structure affects species distribution. We studied how forest edges affected the distribution of birds in grasslands recently encroached by forest patches. We investigated how species’ biological traits influenced their response to vegetation change near forest edges. We censured birds along 300-m line transects run into the open habitat perpendicularly to forest edges. We recorded habitat variables and landscape context along each transect and characterized edges and forest patches.

We recorded 33 bird species in 153 transects for a total of 654 individuals. We analyzed species response to edges with generalized linear mixed models. Habitat preference was prevalent to explain species response to forest edges. The abundance of open-habitat birds such as skylark Alauda arvensis decreased significantly in the vicinity of edges. This negative response extended within 150 m from the edge. The effect was disproportionately higher in open-habitat species with high conservation concern. The abundance of species feeding or/and breeding in both forest and open habitat, such as woodlarks Lullula arborea, sharply increased near edges (positive edge response). Abundance of shrub and non-shrub dependent species increased with distance to edge. The two species groups did no differ in abundance/distance to edge relationship. Intensity of species response to forest edges varied among transects in relation to transect vegetation characteristics. Edge length or aspect, diet and nest height had no direct effect. We discuss the possible role of variation in resources and nest predation risk to explain observed patterns.