Large-scale patterns of spatial variation in species geographic range size are central to many fundamental questions in macroecology and conservation biology. However, the global nature of these patterns has remained contentious, since previous studies have been geographically restricted and/or based on small taxonomic groups. Here, using a database on the breeding distributions of birds, we report the first (to our knowledge) global maps of variation in species range sizes for an entire taxonomic class. We show that range area does not follow a simple latitudinal pattern. Instead, the smallest range areas are attained on islands, in mountainous areas, and largely in the southern hemisphere. In contrast, bird species richness peaks around the equator, and towards higher latitudes. Despite these profoundly different latitudinal patterns, spatially explicit models reveal a weak tendency for areas with high species richness to house species with significantly smaller median range area. Taken together, these results show that for birds many spatial patterns in range size described in geographically restricted analyses do not reflect global rules. It remains to be discovered whether global patterns in geographic range size are best interpreted in terms of geographical variation in species assemblage packing, or in the rates of speciation, extinction, and dispersal that ultimately underlie biodiversity.