Study of the evolution of ecological characteristics using phylogenetic information is only beginning, but several new tools and approaches open fascinating possibilities. The Pipridae is a diverse and well-known family of frugivorous birds that are easily sampled and that are broadly distributed across many Neotropical environments, and as such are appropriate for studies of ecological niche evolution. Using known occurrences and climate and topography data sets, we modeled ecological niches for each species in the family, and carried out analyses aimed at describing ecological niches of manakins and understanding historical patterns of ecological change in the family. Most species’ ecological niches were characterized by warm and relatively humid conditions, reflecting the great diversification of the family in lowland and montane forests of western South America. Ecological niche evolution was in general conservative, with most sister species pairs being closely similar ecologically, indicating that isolation rather than adaptation to new ecological conditions has dominated the diversification in this family. Exceptions to this pattern represent interesting foci for future research, whereas studies of ecological niches focusing on past distributions of manakins will allow further biogeographic inferences.