The identification of the characteristics of species that make them susceptible or resilient to climate change has been elusive because non-climatic influences may dominate short- and medium-term changes in population and distribution sizes. Here we studied the 2003 French heat wave, during which other confounding variables remained essentially unchanged, with a correlational approach. We tested the relationship between population resilience and thermal range by analysing the responses of 71 bird species to a 6-month heat wave. Species with small thermal ranges showed the sharpest decreases in population growth rate between 2003 and 2004 in locations with the highest temperature anomalies. Thermal range explained the resilience of birds to the heat wave independently of other potential predictors, although it correlated with nest location and broad habitat type used by species. The geographically deduced thermal range appears to be a reliable predictor of the resilience of these endothermic species to extreme temperatures.