Europe is home to more than 530 regularly occurring wild bird species, across 69 families, with a total estimated breeding population of around two billion pairs. Millions more migrate through the continent on passage to Africa, whilst millions of others from the Arctic or Russia spend the winter in Europe. Around 17% of European birds are endemic or near-endemic, i.e. are found only in Europe or species whose global range is concentrated in Europe. More than half the European endemic or near-endemic species are from six families: Columbidae (pigeons and doves), Procellariidae (petrels and shearwaters), Laridae (gulls and terns), Fringillidae (finches), Muscicapidae (chats and flycatchers), and Sylviidae (warblers).
At present, 53 (10%) of European species are considered to be of global conservation concern, and are listed as Threatened or Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List. These range from species endemic to single islands, to widespread species occurring in many countries. According to the last assessment of the conservation status of birds in Europe (BirdLife International 2004a), 43% of the bird species occurring regularly in Europe had an unfavourable conservation status and therefore qualified as Species of European Conservation Concern (SPECs). Of the species assessed, 40 (7.6%) were classified as SPEC 1 (European species of global conservation concern), 45 (8.6%) as SPEC 2 (species with global population concentrated in Europe and with unfavourable conservation status in Europe) and 141 (26.9%) as SPEC 3 (species not concentrated in Europe, but with unfavourable conservation status in Europe). The percentage of species in each of these three categories was higher than in the preceding assessment in 1994 (Tucker & Heath 1994), when 38% of species were classified as SPEC 1, 2 or 3. At the EU level, 48% of species had an unfavourable conservation status in 2004 (BirdLife International 2004b).