Most recent extinctions of birds have been caused by habitat loss or by human or introduced predators and have been on islands. Local losses of species in habitat patches are particularly prevalent amongst various specialist feeders and species occurring in small numbers. Future candidates for global extinction are hard to pick from lists of species with indicators of susceptibility. Population modelling should help, but data are generally lacking. A review of threatened birds in the Americas shows that declines and rarity are often inferred from habitat loss and infrequent records, in the absence of quantitative data. The most threatened species often occur in very few places, where their future is likely to be determined. Safeguarding protected areas within centres of endemism offers a pragmatic response for a high proportion of globally threatened birds and probably other taxa as well.