A topic of recurring interest in ecological research is the degree to which vegetation structure influences the distribution and abundance of species. Here we test the applicability of remote sensing, particularly novel use of waveform lidar measurements, for quantifying the habitat heterogeneity of a contiguous northern hardwoods forest in the northeastern United States. We apply these results to predict the breeding habitat quality, an indicator of reproductive output of a well-studied Neotropical migrant songbird, the Black-throated Blue Warbler (Dendroica caerulescens). We found that using canopy vertical structure metrics provided unique information for models of habitat quality and spatial patterns of prevalence. An ensemble decision tree modeling approach (random forests) consistently identified lidar metrics describing the vertical distribution and complexity of canopy elements as important predictors of habitat use over multiple years. Although other aspects of habitat were important, including the seasonality of vegetation cover, the canopy structure variables provided unique and complementary information that systematically improved model predictions. We conclude that canopy structure metrics derived from waveform lidar, which will be available on future satellite missions, can advance multiple aspects of biodiversity research, and additional studies should be extended to other organisms and regions.