Climate variability is changing on multiple temporal scales, and little is known of the consequences of increases in short-term variability, particularly in endotherms. Using mortality data with high temporal resolution of zebra finches living in large outdoor aviaries (5 years, 359.220 bird-days), we show that mortality rate increases almost two-fold per 1 degrees C increase in diurnal temperature range (DTR). Interestingly, the DTR effect differed between two groups with low versus high experimentally manipulated foraging costs, reflecting a typical laboratory 'easy' foraging environment and a 'hard' semi-natural environment respectively. DTR increased mortality on days with low minimum temperature in the easy foraging environment, but on days with high minimum temperature in the semi-natural environment. Thus, in a natural environment DTR effects will become increasingly important in a warming world, something not detectable in an 'easy' laboratory environment. These effects were particularly apparent at young ages. Critical time window analyses showed that the effect of DTR on mortality is delayed up to three months, while effects of minimum temperature occurred within a week. These results show that daily temperature variability can substantially impact the population viability of endothermic species.