Abstract Individual differences in sexual behavior have received much attention by evolutionary biologists, but relatively little is known about the proximate causes of this variation. We studied the quantitative genetics of male and female sexual behavior of captive zebra finches and found surprisingly strong maternal effects (differing between individual mothers) on the aggressiveness and song rate of sons and on the daughters' mating preferences for these male traits. We also found that daughters differed in their choosiness during mate-choice experiments depending on whether they originated from eggs produced early or late within the laying sequence of a clutch. Because this effect of laying order occurred independently of hatching order in cross-fostered broods, it must have been caused by consistent within-mother variation in maternal effects transmitted through the egg. Our findings raise the question whether these maternal effects might represent strategic programming of offspring behavior in response to the environment experienced by mothers or whether they are merely nonadaptive byproducts of developmental processes.