Size of distributional range, position in the range, body size and diet are some of the ecological traits that may correlate with local abundance. Evolutionary phenomena such as taxon cycles, acting over much greater time periods, may also influence abundance and promote species extinction. This paper assesses which of a wide range of ecological and historic traits best predict the variation in abundance of tropical forest birds on Sumba and Buru islands in Wallacea (Indonesia). In addition we seek to determine which traits predict species' ability to adapt to secondary or logged forest. The most important correlates of both abundance and ability to transfer were those related to the evolutionary history of the species within the Wallacean Archipelago and not the traits that were more directly related to species ecology. These relationships are maintained when allowance is made for phylogenetic relationships. Our interpretation of the results is that recent colonists to an island are initially rare in the indigenous forest habitat but concomitant with an adaptation to local conditions they gradually become more abundant and taxonomically distinct from other populations of the same species. These results apparently contradict the taxon cycle hypothesis but this may be a result of our focus on indigenous forest habitats rather than on a wider range dominated by anthropogenic ones.