Incubation by both parents is a common parental behaviour in many avian species. Biparental incubation is expected if the survival prospects of offspring are greatly raised by shared care, relative to the costs incurred by each parent. We investigated this proposition in the Kentish plover Charadrius alexandrinus, in which both parents incubate the clutch, but one parent (either the male or the female) usually deserts after hatching of the eggs. We carried out a mate-removal and food supplementation experiment to reveal both the role of the sexes and food abundance in maintaining biparental incubation by removing either the male or the female from the nest for a short period of time. In some nests we provided supplementary food for the parent that remained at the nest to reduce the costs of incubation, whereas other nests were left unsupplemented. Although males spent more time on incubation after their mate had been removed, females’ incubation did not change. Notwithstanding the increased male incubation, total nest attentiveness was lower at uniparental nests than at biparental controls. However, incubation behaviour was not influenced by food supplementation. We conclude that offspring desertion during incubation is apparently costly in the Kentish plover, and this cost cannot be ameliorated with supplementary food.