Biodiversity is valuable to society, including through its contribution to cultural benefits: “the non-material benefits people obtain from biodiversity and ecosystem services through spiritual enrichment, cognitive development, reflection, recreation, and aesthetic experiences”. Biodiversity encompasses numerous measures, but the distinct values of these measures have been little studied. We conducted a discrete choice experiment to elicit respondents’ (n = 3,000) willingness to pay for increases in four measures of bird diversity in UK coastal ecosystems: number of bird species (species richness), number of individual birds (abundance), probability of seeing rare or unusual bird species, and probability of seeing large flocks of birds (wildlife spectacles). Respondents had a positive willingness to pay (through one-time voluntary donations) for increases in all four measures (mean £3 to £5 per household). However, using latent class analysis we found considerable heterogeneity of preferences, identifying four classes of respondents with strikingly different levels of marginal willingness to pay for the four measures. Income, age, environmental activity, visits to environmental settings, and gender were important determinants of class membership. While focusing on birds, our results demonstrate the importance of a multi-dimensional conceptualisation of biodiversity in broader ecosystem management, rather than focussing on a single aspect such as species richness or abundance. Our findings also highlight the implications of heterogeneous public preferences for biodiversity for conservationists, planners, shoreline managers and developers. These need to be considered in the development of new frameworks for ecosystem services, and when planning and funding conservation actions so that the cultural benefits will accrue across a range of social groups.