Do birds show a different pattern of insular evolution from mammals? Mammals follow the ‘island rule’, with large–bodied species getting smaller on islands and small–bodied species getting bigger. By contrast, the traditional view on birds is that they follow no general island rule for body size, but that there is an insular trend for large bills. Insular shifts in feeding ecology are, therefore, widely assumed to be the primary cause of divergence in island birds. We use a comparative approach to test these ideas. Contrary to the traditional view, we find no evidence for increased bill size in insular populations. Instead, changes in both bill size and body size obey the ‘island rule’. The differences between our results and the traditional view arise because previous analyses were based largely on passerines. We also investigate some ecological factors that are thought to influence island evolution. As predicted by the traditional view, shifts in bill size are associated with feeding ecology. By contrast, shifts in body size are associated with the potential for intraspecific competition and thermal ecology. All these results remain qualitatively unchanged when we use different methods to score the ecological factors and restrict our analyses to taxa showing pronounced morphological divergence. Because of strong covariation between ecological factors, however, we cannot estimate the relative importance of each ecological factor. Overall, our results show that the island rule is valid for both body size and bill length in birds and that, in addition to feeding ecology, insular shifts in the level of intraspecific competition and the abiotic environment also have a role.