Abstract The objective of this study was to examine bird communities in regenerating (5–25 years) and mature (40–100 years) jack pine ( Pinus banksiana) forest in boreal Ontario. The study area was located near White River in north central Ontario with an area of 187,800 ha. We explored the response of bird community structure to stand age, and the influence of stand age on the distribution of individual species. We were interested in two principal questions. The first was how unique are the bird communities to specific age classes. If bird communities are highly specific to age classes then alterations to the age class distribution of the forest can have important impacts on the overall bird community composition and structure. The second question was how specific are individual species to age classes. Species that are highly specific to a single age class are expected to be highly sensitive to the amount and potentially the configuration of that age class on the landscape. We sampled birds for three breeding seasons. The number of bird species increased with stand age. Tree species composition did not change as stands aged, but there were distinctive changes in vegetation structure through succession. For example, the total amount of vertical vegetation structure increased significantly with age. More than half of the bird species examined were significant indicators of individual age classes. Blue-headed vireo, brown creeper, black-throated green warbler, golden-crowned kinglet, ovenbird and red-breasted nuthatch were all significant indicators of the mature age class. The bird assemblage of mature stands was significantly different from that of regenerating forest and within regenerating forest, 3–5-year-old stands contained a significantly different bird assemblage to that of 8–25-year-old regenerating forest. These results suggest that the distribution of forest age classes on the landscape is a critical element in determining habitat availability and therefore the viability of boreal bird populations in managed forests.