Female extra-pair copulations (EPCs) have selected for male paternity guarding strategies in many bird species. In the bluethroat, Luscinia s. svecica, males guard their mates closely during the last 2 d before the start of egg laying, but there is great individual variation in the intensity of mate guarding. Here we show that some of this variation is related to male age. Old males guarded their mates with much lower intensity and sang more than young males, although the latter difference was not statistically significant. Controlling for male age, male and female coloration and size were not significantly related to the intensity of mate guarding. We have previously shown that young and old males had a similar paternity loss in their own broods. On the other hand, old males were far more successful than young males in achieving extra-pair fertilizations. These patterns suggest that young and old males have different trade-offs between preventing paternity loss in own nest and gaining paternity in others, because male skills in obtaining EPCs improve with experience and/or because of female preferences for old males as copulation partners. There were no significant relationships between paternity and male mate-guarding behaviour during the fertile period, indicating that mate guarding is not a very effective paternity-assurance strategy in the bluethroat.