Understanding demographic processes will be essential to construct robust models of population responses to climate change. We show that survival is related to the strength of the North Atlantic Oscillation in five out of ten British resident passerine species, and explore the importance of biologically more specific variables (duration of winter frosts and snow periods; occurrence of cold, wet days; spring temperature; and summer drought). The most important variables differed between species in relation to differences in foraging strategy. In almost all cases, first-year survival was influenced by weather more than was the survival of adult birds. Particularly vulnerable species, such as the Wren Troglodytes troglodytes, may exhibit a 25% reduction in juvenile survival rates due to adverse weather within the range experienced in the last 30 years; variation in survival by 10% or more is commonplace in most species. Thus, climate influences on food availability may provide the mechanism by which populations will alter under changed climatic conditions, though the presence of density dependence may reduce the impact of this on long-term population trajectories.