Darwinian fitness of an individual is measured by the number of recruits it contributes to the next generation. We studied variation in fitness among members of three cohorts of two species of Darwin's finches living on the Galápagos island of Daphne Major: the medium ground finch (Geospiza fortis) and cactus finch (Geospiza scandens). Individuals of both species live for up to 16 years. Variation in fitness was neither random nor heritable. Non–randomness arises as a result of a few individuals living for an exceptionally long time and breeding many times. For each cohort, the number of recruits per breeder is strongly predicted by the number of fledglings per breeder. In turn, the number of fledglings is strongly predicted by longevity of the breeder. These results suggest that the most important determinant of fitness is the ability of an individual to survive to breed in many years. Morphological traits affect this ability. Although morphological traits are heritable they do not change unidirectionally because they are selected in opposite directions, and in different combinations, under fluctuating environmental conditions. Non–random fitness variation in fluctuating populations implies much smaller genetically effective sizes than breeding population sizes.