Abstract Aim Bergmann's rule, the tendency for body size to be positively correlated with latitude, is widely accepted but the mechanisms behind the patterns are still debated. Bergmann's originally conceived mechanism was based on heat conservation; other proposed mechanisms invoke phylogeny, migration distance and resource seasonality. With the goal of examining these mechanisms, we quantified morphological variation across the breeding range of a Neotropical migratory songbird, the cerulean warbler (Dendroica cerulea). Location Deciduous forests of eastern North America. Methods We sampled nine cerulean warbler populations, spanning the species’ breeding range. We captured 156 males using targeted playback and model presentation, and included 127 adult males in our analyses of morphological variation. We used an information-theoretical approach to identify climatic variables associated with geographical variation in body size. Results Cerulean warbler body size adheres to Bergmann's rule: individuals in northern populations are larger than those in southern populations. Variation in body size is best explained by variation in dry and wet-bulb temperature and actual evapotranspiration. Main conclusions Adherence to Bergmann's rule by the cerulean warbler appears to be linked to thermodynamics (heat conservation in the north, evaporative cooling in the south) and resource seasonality. Multiple selection pressures can interact to generate a single axis of morphological geographical variation, and even subtle fluctuations in climatic variables can exert significant selection pressures. We suggest that the influence of selection pressures on migrants might be enhanced by migratory connectivity, providing further support for the important role played by this phenomenon in the ecology, evolution and population dynamics of migratory songbirds.