We present a general framework for characterizing the ecological and societal consequences of biodiversity loss and applying it to the global avifauna. To investigate the potential ecological consequences of avian declines, we developed comprehensive databases of the status and functional roles of birds and a stochastic model for forecasting change. Overall, 21% of bird species are currently extinction-prone and 6.5% are functionally extinct, contributing negligibly to ecosystem processes. We show that a quarter or more of frugivorous and omnivorous species and one-third or more of herbivorous, piscivorous, and scavenger species are extinction-prone. Furthermore, our projections indicate that by 2100, 6-14% of all bird species will be extinct, and 7-25% (28-56% on oceanic islands) will be functionally extinct. Important ecosystem processes, particularly decomposition, pollination, and seed dispersal, will likely decline as a result.