The use of a bird community index that characterizes ecosystem integrity is very attractive to conservation planners and habitat managers, particularly in the absence of any single focal species. In riparian areas of the western USA, several attempts at arriving at a community index signifying a functioning riparian bird community have been made previously, mostly resorting to expert opinions or national conservation rankings for species weights. Because extensive local and regional bird monitoring data were available for Nevada, we were able to develop three different indices that were derived empirically, rather than from expert opinion. We formally examined the use of three species weighting schemes in comparison with simple species richness, using different definitions of riparian species assemblage size, for the purpose of predicting community response to changes in vegetation structure from riparian restoration. For the three indices, species were weighted according to the following criteria: (1) the degree of riparian habitat specialization based on regional data, (2) the relative conservation ranking of landbird species, and (3) the degree to which a species is under-represented compared to the regional species pool for riparian areas. To evaluate the usefulness of these indices for habitat restoration planning and monitoring, we modeled them using habitat variables that are expected to respond to riparian restoration efforts, using data from 64 sampling sites in the Walker River Basin in Nevada and California. We found that none of the species-weighting schemes performed any better as an index for evaluating overall habitat condition than using species richness alone as a community index. Based on our findings, the use of a fairly complete list of 30–35 riparian specialists appears to be the best indicator group for predicting the response of bird communities to the restoration of riparian vegetation.