Intrinsic processes are assumed to underlie life history expression and trade-offs, but extrinsic inputs are theorised to shift trait expression and mask trade-offs within species. Here, we explore application of this theory across species. We do this based on parentally induced embryo temperature as an extrinsic input, and mass-specific embryo metabolism as an intrinsic process, underlying embryonic development rate. We found that embryonic metabolism followed intrinsic allometry rules among 49 songbird species from temperate and tropical sites. Extrinsic inputs via parentally induced temperatures explained the majority of variation in development rates and masked a relationship with metabolism; metabolism explained a minor proportion of the variation in development rates among species, and only after accounting for temperature effects. We discuss evidence that temperature further obscures the expected interspecific trade-off between development rate and offspring quality. These results demonstrate the importance of considering extrinsic inputs to trait expression and trade-offs across species.