The evolutionary potential in the timing of recruitment and reproduction may be crucial for the ability of populations to buffer against environmental changes, allowing them to avoid unfavourable breeding conditions. The evolution of a trait in a local population is determined by its heritability and selection. In the present study, we performed pedigree-based quantitative genetic analyses for two life-history traits (recruiting age and laying date) using population data of the storm petrel over an 18-year period in two adjacent breeding colonies (only 150 m apart) that share the same environmental conditions. In both traits, natal colony effect was the main source of the phenotypic variation among individuals, and cohort variance for recruitment age and additive genetic variance for laying date were natal colony-specific. We found significant heritability only in laying date and, more specifically, only in birds born in one of the colonies. The difference in genetic variance between the colonies was statistically significant. Interestingly, selection on earlier breeding birds was detected only in the colony in which heritable variation in laying date was found. Therefore, local evolvability for a life-history trait may vary within a unexpectedly small spatial scale, through the diversifying natural selection and insulating gene flow. © 2012 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2012, 106, 439–446.