The loss and fragmentation of forest habitats have been considered to pose a worldwide threat to the viability of forest-dwelling animals, especially to species that occupy old forests. We investigated whether the annual survival of sedentary male Tengmalm’s owls Aegolius funereus was associated with the cover of old coniferous forests in Finland. Survival and recapture probabilities varied annually with density changes in populations of the main prey (Microtus voles). When this variation was controlled for, and relationships between survival and proportions of the three different forest age classes (old-growth, middle-aged, and young) were modeled separately, the old-growth model was the most parsimonious. Survival increased with the cover of old forest, although the extent of old forest within owl territories was relatively small (mean ∼12%, range 2–37%). This association, however, varied among years and appeared especially in years of increasing vole abundance. At such times, old forests may sustain high populations of bank voles Clethrionomys glareolus, shrews and small passerines. In addition, old forests may serve as refuges against large avian predator species, such as Ural owls Strix uralensis and goshawks Accipiter gentilis. Our results suggest that changes in habitat quality created by agriculture and forestry may have the potential to reduce adult survival, an essential component of fitness and population viability.