Birds have long fascinated scientists and travellers, so their distribution and abundance through time have been better documented than those of other organisms. Many bird species are known to have gone extinct, but information on subspecies extinctions has never been synthesised comprehensively. We reviewed the timing, spatial patterns, trends and causes of avian extinctions on a global scale, identifying 279 ultrataxa (141 monotypic species and 138 subspecies of polytypic species) that have gone extinct since 1500. Species extinctions peaked in the early 20th century, then fell until the mid 20th century, and have subsequently accelerated. However, extinctions of ultrataxa peaked in the second half of the 20th century. This trend reflects a consistent decline in the rate of extinctions on islands since the beginning of the 20th century, but an acceleration in the extinction rate on continents. Most losses (78.7% of species and 63.0% of subspecies) occurred on oceanic islands. Geographic foci of extinctions include the Hawaiian Islands (36 taxa), mainland Australia and islands (29 taxa), the Mascarene Islands (27 taxa), New Zealand (22 taxa) and French Polynesia (19 taxa). The major proximate drivers of extinction for both species and subspecies are invasive alien species (58.2% and 50.7% of species and subspecies, respectively), hunting (52.4% and 18.8%) and agriculture, including non-timber crops and livestock farming (14.9% and 31.9%). In general, the distribution and drivers of subspecific extinctions are similar to those for species extinctions. However, our finding that, when subspecies are considered, the extinction rate has accelerated in recent decades is both novel and alarming.