Context. The population dynamics of many wildlife species are associated with fluctuations in climate. Food and abundance may also influence wildlife dynamics. Aims. The present paper aims to evaluate the relative effects of climate on the annual instantaneous population growth rate (r) of the following three bird species: grey heron and barn owl in parts of Britain and malleefowl in a part of Australia. Methods. A priori hypotheses of mechanistic effects of climate are derived and evaluated using information theoretic and regression analyses and published data for the three bird species. Climate was measured as the winter North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) for herons and owls, and rainfall and also the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) for malleefowl. Key results. Population dynamics of grey heron were positively related to the winter NAO, and of malleefowl were positively related to annual rainfall and related in a non-linear manner to SOI. By contrast, population dynamics of barn owl were very weakly related to climate. The best models for the grey heron differed between time periods but always included an effect of the NAO. Conclusions. The annual population growth rate of grey heron, malleefowl and barn owl show contrasting relationships with climate, from stronger (heron and malleefowl) to weaker (barn owl). The results were broadly consistent with reported patterns but differed in some details. Interpretation of the effects of climate on the basis of analyses rather than visual assessment is encouraged. Implications. Effects of climate differ among species, so effects of future climate change may also differ.