The present–day distribution of centres of endemism is the result of an interplay between historical biogeography and contemporary environmental conditions. The relative importance of these two factors has never been established, however, for want of information on both the distributions themselves and the continental–scale measurement of environmental variables. Recently published maps of avian endemism in Africa, and the increasing availability of continental–scale surrogates of climatic conditions derived from Earth–orbiting satellites, has allowed this problem to be addressed directly. In this paper, temporal–Fourier–processed surrogate meteorological data derived from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's series of polar–orbiting meteorological satellites and from the geostationary Meteosat satellites are used within a discriminant analytical framework to describe and predict areas of bird endemism in East Africa. The technique predicts endemic bird areas (EBAs) with an accuracy of 89% (mean 85%, range 70 to 89%). Contemporary environmental conditions, ultimately determined by climate, therefore appear to account for a substantial fraction of the observed variation in the distribution of EBAs. On the basis of these results, several hypotheses proposed to explain the distribution of centres of avian endemism are reviewed.