Insights into animal behaviour play an increasingly central role in species-focused conservation practice. However, progress towards incorporating behaviour into regional or global conservation strategies has been more limited, not least because standardized datasets of behavioural traits are generally lacking at wider taxonomic or spatial scales. Here we make use of the recent expansion of global datasets for birds to assess the prospects for including behavioural traits in systematic conservation priority-setting and monitoring programmes. Using International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List classifications for more than 9500 bird species, we show that the incidence of threat can vary substantially across different behavioural categories, and that some types of behaviour—including particular foraging, mating and migration strategies—are significantly more threatened than others. The link between behavioural traits and extinction risk is partly driven by correlations with well-established geographical and ecological factors (e.g. range size, body mass, human population pressure), but our models also reveal that behaviour modifies the effect of these factors, helping to explain broad-scale patterns of extinction risk. Overall, these results suggest that a multi-species approach at the scale of communities, continents and ecosystems can be used to identify and monitor threatened behaviours, and to flag up cases of latent extinction risk, where threatened status may currently be underestimated. Our findings also highlight the importance of comprehensive standardized descriptive data for ecological and behavioural traits, and point the way towards deeper integration of behaviour into quantitative conservation assessments.
This article is part of the theme issue ‘Linking behaviour to dynamics of populations and communities: application of novel approaches in behavioural ecology to conservation’.