Avifaunal responses to understorey fire disturbance and subsequent changes in habitat structure were examined within 20 burnt and unburnt forest plots of 0.25 ha (10×250 m), 10–15 months after an unprecedented understorey fire swept through the Tapajós-Arapiuns Extractive Reserve of central Brazilian Amazonia following the severe 1997–1998 El-Niño dry season. Although these surface fires in the previously undisturbed primary forest were relatively mild, they resulted in dramatic changes in forest structure consistent with those found elsewhere in Amazonia. Bird species negatively affected by these changes tended to be the least common, the most disturbance-sensitive, and habitat specialists. Considering different guilds, ant followers, dead-leaf gleaners, terrestrial gleaners, and arboreal sallying insectivores were the most negatively affected, whereas nectivores and arboreal granivores became more abundant in the burnt forest. The results highlight the severe consequences of even relatively mild surface fires in neotropical forests, and the importance of controlling haphazard frontier expansion for the conservation of susceptible species that are endemic to fire-prone regions.