Species distribution models (SDMs) have traditionally been founded on the assumption that species distributions are in equilibrium with environmental conditions and that these species–environment relationships can be used to estimate species responses to environmental changes. Insight into the validity of this assumption can be obtained from comparing the performance of correlative species distribution models with more complex hybrid approaches, i.e. correlative and process-based models that explicitly include ecological processes, thereby accounting for mismatches between habitat suitability and species occupancy patterns. Here we compared the ability of correlative SDMs and hybrid models, which can accommodate non-equilibrium situations arising from dispersal constraints, to reproduce the distribution dynamics of the ortolan bunting Emberiza hortulana in highly dynamic, early successional, fire driven Mediterranean landscapes. Whereas, habitat availability was derived from a correlative statistical SDM, occupancy was modeled using a hybrid approach combining a grid-based, spatially-explicit population model that explicitly included bird dispersal with the correlative model. We compared species occupancy patterns under the equilibrium assumption and different scenarios of species dispersal capabilities. To evaluate the predictive capability of the different models, we used independent species data collected in areas affected to different degree by fires. In accordance with the view that disturbance leads to a disparity between the suitable habitat and the occupancy patterns of the ortolan bunting, our results indicated that hybrid modeling approaches were superior to correlative models in predicting species spatial dynamics. Furthermore, hybrid models that incorporated short dispersal distances were more likely to reproduce the observed changes in ortolan bunting distribution patterns, suggesting that dispersal plays a key role in limiting the colonization of recently burnt areas. We conclude that SDMs used in a dynamic context can be significantly improved by using combined hybrid modeling approaches that explicitly account for interactions between key ecological constraints such as dispersal and habitat suitability that drive species response to environmental changes.