Refuges for threatened species are important to prevent species extinction. They provide protection from a range of environmental and biotic stressors, and ideally provide protection against all threatening processes. However, for some species it may not be clear why some areas are refuges and others are not. The forty‐spotted pardalote (Pardalotus quadragintus) is an endangered, sedentary, cryptic and specialised bird endemic to the island of Tasmania, Australia. Having undergone an extreme range contraction over the past century the species is now mostly confined to a few small offshore island refuges. Key threatening processes to the species include habitat loss, wildfire, competition and predation. The ways in which these processes have molded the species’ contemporary range have not been clearly evaluated. Furthermore, the security of the remnant population within refuges is uncertain. To overcome this uncertainty we assessed key threats and established the population status in known refuges by developing a robust survey protocol within an occupancy modelling framework. We discuss our results in the context of planning trial reintroductions of this endangered species in suitable habitat across its former range. We found very high occupancy rates (0.75–0.96) at two refuges and in suitable conditions, the species was highly detectable (p, 0.43–0.77). At a third location our surveys indicated a local extinction, likely due to recent wildfire. We demonstrate that all refuges are at high risk of one or more threatening processes and the current distribution across island refuges is unlikely to secure the species from extinction. We identified large areas of potential habitat across the species’ former mainland range, but these are likely too distant from source populations for natural recolonisation. We propose that establishing new populations of forty‐spotted pardalotes via reintroduction is essential to secure the species and that this is best achieved while robust source populations still exist.