East African sunbirds (Nectariniidae) vary in the degree to which they use open habitats and forest habitats. Species that use open habitats may experience more extreme temperatures and greater exposure to solar radiation than those in forest habitats. Basal rates of metabolism, body temperature and thermal conductance were compared for open habitat- and forest-associated sunbirds from Kibale National Park, Uganda. Variation in basal rate of metabolism was associated with body mass, but there was no difference between forest and open habitat species. Variation in body temperature was not associated with body mass or habitat. Variation in thermal conductance was associated with body mass and habitat; open habitat species were characterized by significantly lower thermal conductances than forest species. Because reduced thermal conductance may decrease energy expenditure at low ambient temperatures and reduce exogenous heat gain at high ambient temperatures, this difference may optimize energy expenditure when temperatures are highly variable. This suggests a mechanism by which physiological characteristics may influence energetic consequences of habitat selection.