We tested the hypothesis that birds in arid environments, where primary productivity is low and surface water is scarce, have reduced energy expenditure and water loss compared with their mesic counterparts. Using both conventional least squares regression and regression based on phylogenetically independent contrasts, we showed that birds from desert habitats have reduced basal and field metabolic rates compared with species from mesic areas. Previous work showed that desert birds have reduced rates of total evaporative water loss when exposed to moderate environmental temperatures in the laboratory. We tested whether reduced rates of total evaporative water loss translate into low field water fluxes. Conventional ANCOVA indicated that desert birds have reduced water fluxes, but an analysis based on phylogenetically independent contrasts did not support this finding, despite the wide array of taxonomic affiliations of species in the data set. We conclude that the high ambient temperatures, the low primary productivity, and the water scarcity in desert environments have selected for or resulted in reduced rates of energy expenditure and evaporative water loss in birds that live in these climes.