The fact that certain climatic variables are similar in high-latitude temperate zones and at high-altitude sites in the tropics, has led to assumptions about ecologically equivalent situations. The altitudinal differences between two data sets obtained in forests in temperate Denmark at sea level and in tropical Ecuador at 3000–3350 m above sea level provided a comparison suitable for examining whether high-altitude Andean forests are temperate or tropical from the standpoint of avian richness, abundance and trophic organization. Sampling methods at the two locations were similar. The Ecuadorian high-altitude sites were found to be significantly more species-rich than Danish temperate sites at all spatial scales studied (from point census to 10 km2). Additionally, species–area curves from the two countries displayed positive correlations, as expected, but with different rates of increase. The high-altitude Andean curve demonstrated a higher rate of increase causing the two curves to separate widely as more area was added. This means that when increasing areas are considered, proportionately more species squeeze into the Ecuadorian high-altitude forest landscape than do into the temperate Danish forest landscape. Corresponding to the data on richness, bird abundance was significantly higher at the Ecuadorian sites than at the Danish ones. The analysis of rank–abundance plots from Denmark and Ecuador throws light on the organization of bird species and abundance. The majority of communities in both countries fitted both the log-series and the log-normal models, making statistical distinction impossible. However, a visual inspection of the rank-ordered abundance distributions demonstrated that the Danish communities, in contrast to the Ecuadorian ones, had dominant species with relatively higher abundance, had more species with intermediate abundance, and had fewer species ‘rare by abundance’. Some major food resources (especially fruit and nectar) exploited in high-altitude sites of Ecuador were not reliably available in temperate Denmark leading also to differences in the distribution of bird species within six major trophic categories. In conclusion, the ecological characteristics of birds of the high Andes apparently are similar to those of the tropical and tropical lower montane sites (increased richness and abundance, similar organization of richness and abundance, similar additional trophic categories, similar clutch sizes), and not to those of the high- and low-latitude temperate sites.