The Afromontane forests of Ethiopia are global biodiversity hotspots, known for their high biological diversity and endemism. However, conservation of these areas is challenging due to increasing human threats, including encroachment of agriculture and settlements, overgrazing of livestock, and selective logging. We examined the effects of forest disturbances on birds, and highlights the potential conservation value of unprotected tropical montane forests for birds in the dry evergreen Afromontane forests of the Bale Mountains, Ethiopia. We sampled birds across 2 yr in both protected forests (characterized by low levels of cultivation, overgrazing, and logging) and unprotected forests (higher levels of disturbance). Using functional traits of birds related to habitat type, diet, and foraging stratum, we characterized the differences between protected and unprotected forests in terms of avian species richness, abundance, and assemblage composition. Overall, species richness was 27% higher and bird abundance was 19% higher in unprotected forests. In contrast, species richness and abundance of forest specialists and canopy foragers were significantly higher in protected forests. These findings suggest that unprotected, disturbed tropical montane forests in Ethiopia help to achieve conservation aims in an area recognized for its global biodiversity importance. At the same time, intact forest ecosystems need continued protection to maximize functional heterogeneity associated with specialist tropical forest taxa.