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The arrival of humans on oceanic islands has precipitated a wave of extinctions among the islands' native birds. Nevertheless, the magnitude of this extinction event varies markedly between avifaunas. We show that the probability that a bird species has been extirpated from each of 220 oceanic islands is positively correlated with the number of exotic predatory mammal species established on those islands after European colonization and that the effect of these predators is greater on island endemic species. In contrast, the proportions of currently threatened species are independent of the numbers of exotic mammalian predator species, suggesting that the principal threat to island birds has changed through time as species susceptible to exotic predators have been driven extinct.