We critically evaluated population-monitoring programs for three endangered species of Australian honeyeater: the helmeted honeyeater, Lichenostomus melanops cassidix, the black-eared miner, Manorina melanotis, and the regent honeyeater, Xanthomyza phrygia (Meliphagidae). Our results challenge the common assumption that meaningful monitoring is possible in all species within the five-year lifetime of recovery plans. We found that the precision achievable from monitoring programs not only depends on the monitoring technique applied but also on the species' biology. Relevant life-history attributes include a species' pattern of movement, its home-range size and its distribution. How well understood and predictable these attributes are will also influence monitoring precision. Our results highlight the large degree of variability in precision among monitoring programs and the value of applying power analysis before continuing longer-term studies. They also suggest that managers and funding agencies should be mindful that more easily monitored species should not receive preferential treatment over species that prove more difficult to monitor.