Just as features of the physical and biotic environment constrain evolution of ecological and morphological traits, they may also affect evolution of communication systems. Here we analyze constraints on rates of vocal evolution, using a large dataset of New World avian sister taxa. We show that species breeding in tropical forests sing at generally lower frequencies and across narrower bandwidths than species breeding in open habitats, or at high latitudes. We attribute these restrictions on birdsong frequency to the presence of high-frequency insect noise and greater degradation of high-frequency sounds in tropical forests. We fit Ornstein–Uhlenbeck models to show that recent evolution of song frequency has been more greatly constrained in tropical forests than elsewhere, that is, songs have shown less tendency to diverge over time in tropical forests, consistent with inferred acoustic restrictions. In addition, we find that song frequency has evolved more rapidly overall at high latitudes in both forest and open habitats. Besides a larger available sound window, other factors contributing to more rapid divergence at high latitudes may include an overall increased intensity of sexual selection, occupation of more divergent habitats, and the presence of fewer competing species.