Considerable resources and efforts have been directed at biodiversity conservation in recent years, but measures of the success of conservation programmes have been limited. Based on information on population sizes, trends, threatening processes and the nature and intensity of conservation actions implemented during 1994–2004, we assessed that 16 bird species would have probably become extinct during this period if conservation programmes for them had not been undertaken. The mean minimum population size of these 16 species increased from 34 to 147 breeding individuals during 1994–2004. In 1994, 63% of them had declining populations but by 2004, 81% were increasing. Most of these species (63%) are found on islands. The principal threats that led to their decline were habitat loss and degradation (88%), invasive species (50%) and exploitation (38%), a pattern similar to that for other threatened species, but with exploitation and invasive species being relatively more important. The principal actions carried out were habitat protection and management (75% of species), control of invasive species (50%), and captive breeding and release (33%). The 16 species represent only 8.9% of those currently classified as Critically Endangered, and 1.3% of those threatened with extinction. Many of these additional species slipped closer to extinction during 1994–2004, including 164 that deteriorated in status sufficiently to be uplisted to higher categories of extinction risk on the IUCN Red List (IUCN, 2006). Efforts need to be considerably scaled up to prevent many more extinctions in the coming decades. The knowledge and tools to achieve this are available, but we need to mobilize the resources and political will to apply them.