We examined variation in bird species richness, abundance and guild composition along an agricultural gradient in New Guinea, and looked for any additive influence of habitat heterogeneity on these variables. The study was based on a grid of survey plots, six plots wide and 24 plots long with the long axis running from a settlement 2.4 km through active and abandoned agricultural plots towards a large area of forest. Each circular survey plot (25 m radius) was assigned to a broad habitat type, ten habitat measures taken, and birds counted for 1 h in each plot. Principal component analysis (PCA) habitat axis 1 described an axis of decreasing forest alteration (larger trees, greater tree densities, fuller canopy) that was positively correlated with distance from the settlement. Bird richness and abundance were highest at intermediate disturbance levels (plots with mid-range axis 1 scores). Proportions of insectivores and frugivores increased with decreasing forest alteration, while proportions of nectarivores decreased. We calculated three measures of habitat heterogeneity by comparing each plot's PCA score to those of eight neighbouring plots (50–110 m away). These measures reflected how different the plot was to its neighbours, how variable the habitat was around the plot, and the degree to which the plot bordered less disturbed forest. We related these measures to plot bird variable scores independently, and to residuals following regressions of bird scores against PCA scores. Heterogeneity measures had no significant influence on abundance or richness measures, but there were greater proportions of frugivores in plots showing a given degree of habitat alteration if they bordered more pristine habitat. While we readily identified differences in bird communities along the agricultural gradient, the influences of habitat heterogeneity were not striking for birds at this fine scale.