Ecological communities are composed of a combination of core species that maintain local viable populations and transient species that occur infrequently due to dispersal from surrounding regions. Preliminary work indicates that while core and transient species are both commonly observed in community surveys of a wide range of taxonomic groups, their relative prevalence varies substantially from one community to another depending upon the spatial scale at which the community was characterized and its environmental context. We used a geographically extensive dataset of 968 bird community time series to quantitatively describe how the proportion of core species in a community varies with spatial scale and environmental heterogeneity. We found that the proportion of core species in an assemblage increased with spatial scale in a positive decelerating fashion with a concomitant decrease in the proportion of transient species. Variation in the shape of this scaling relationship between sites was related to regional environmental heterogeneity, with lower proportions of core species at a given scale associated with high environmental heterogeneity. Understanding this influence of scale and environmental heterogeneity on the proportion of core species may help resolve discrepancies between studies of biotic interactions, resource availability, and mass effects conducted at different scales, because the importance of these and other ecological processes are expected to differ substantially between core and transient species.