Understanding what people like about birds can help target advocacy for bird conservation. However, testing preferences for characteristics of birds is methodologically challenging, with bias difficult to avoid. In this paper we test whether preferred characteristics of birds in general are shared by the individual bird species the same people nominate as being those they consider most attractive. We then compare these results with the birds which appear most frequently in the imagery of conservation advocates. Based on a choice model completed by 638 general public respondents from around Australia, we found a preference for small colourful birds with a melodious call. However, when the same people were asked which five birds they found most attractive, 48% named no more than three, mostly large well-known species. Images displayed by a leading Australian bird conservation organisation also favoured large colourful species. The choice model results suggest conservation advocates can promote a much wider range of bird types as flagships, particularly smaller species that might otherwise be neglected.