Parental food allocation in birds has long been a focal point for life history and parent–offspring conflict theories. In asynchronously hatching species, parents are thought to either adjust brood size through death of marginal offspring (brood reduction), or feed the disadvantaged chicks to reduce the competitive hierarchy (parental compensation). Here, we show that parent American coots (Fulica americana) practice both strategies by switching from brood reduction to compensation across time. Late-hatching chicks suffer higher mortality only for the first few days after hatching. Later, parents begin to exhibit parental aggression towards older chicks and each parent favours a single chick, both of which are typically the youngest of the surviving offspring. The late-hatched survivors can equal or exceed their older siblings in size prior to independence. A mixed allocation strategy allows parents to compensate for the costs of competitive hierarchies while gaining the benefits of hatching asynchrony.