Cooperatively breeding noisy miners (Manorina melanocephala) are well known in Australia for their persistent and very vocal group mobbing of heterospecifics. Here I investigated the nature of this extraordinary behaviour, in particular its role in nest defence, in a colour banded population of noisy miners in south-east Queensland, Australia. I focused on two questions. First, did the intensity of mobbing vary according to factors such as the threat to the nest, or the ‘value’ of a clutch? Secondly, what role did group mobbing play in the success of a nest? To answer these questions, I experimentally manipulated the nest defence behaviour by placing one of three stuffed models near active noisy miner nests. The response of noisy miners to intruders was not indiscriminate. However, I found that the number of birds that mobbed a model did not simply reflect the potential threat posed. The response of noisy miners to raptors and other potential nest predators may have reflected their rarity as well as the threat posed. The number of mobbers did not vary with the age or size of a brood. In this study, the fate of nests was independent of the number of mobbers or visitors at nests. Finally, up to 80% of mobbers were never seen to make any other type of contribution to a nest, and many could not be related to the brood that they were ‘defending’. Hence, for some noisy miner ‘helpers’ the benefits that they accrued were probably not wholly dependent on the survival of the broods. I suggest that, in this gregarious species, mobbing behaviour at the nest may be a display of social status or individual quality. This hypothesis warrants further investigation.