Summary Volunteers play an important role in recovery efforts on threatened Australian birds. We surveyed the demography, motivation and preferences of people registered with the Threatened Bird Network, a network dedicated to placing volunteers in recovery efforts. Most were employed or studying and were members of conservation or natural history groups. The main reason for volunteering was an interest in conservation, and most volunteers considered habitat conservation of primary importance. They preferred outdoor projects on highly threatened species and where organizers set clear goals, provided feedback and supervised in a friendly and helpful manner. We also surveyed the recovery projects to determine the extent of volunteer involvement required, and the expectations recovery teams had of volunteers. Volunteers made a major contribution to recovery efforts, with $3.4 million being directed to 32 recovery efforts in the period 1996−2000 − a contribution that has been increasing in recent years. Most activities involved surveying and searching and most activities were available in spring, which coincides with the breeding season of the taxa involved. Volunteers travelled considerable distances, yet only a few projects provided financial support.