1. It has been known for some time that the consequences of ‘decisions’ made at one point in an animal’s life may not always be borne immediately. For example, numerous studies have demonstrated the trade-off between current and future breeding success across multiple taxa.
2. It is becoming increasingly clear that such processes may also operate among seasons, such that the conditions experienced at one point in the annual cycle may have significant downstream impacts, or ‘carry-over effects’, and this is particularly evident among migratory species. We might therefore predict that certain combinations of reproductive and migratory strategy could lead to profound carry-over effects. However, the extent to which these phenomena might generate variation in fitness within a population is unclear.
3. Here, we investigate how winter habitat selection in a long-distance migrant, with extended parental care (the Light-bellied Brent goose) is influenced by parental status and how this has a counterintuitive effect on subsequent breeding success.
4. Dominant individuals and groups generally monopolize the best quality resources. In the case of geese, families are dominant; however, our findings highlight a hidden cost to raising a family. Stable isotope analysis demonstrates that later in the non-breeding season, adults with families utilize lower quality resources than non-breeders. This is probably caused by parents being constrained in habitat choice by the lower foraging efficiency of their juveniles. Consequently, parental adults end the winter in poorer condition than non-breeders.
5. We further demonstrate that parents in one year are less likely than expected to breed again in the next year and suggest that this is caused by conditions during the non-breeding period being carried over into the breeding season. In conclusion, we demonstrate previously hidden costs to raising a family, which are likely to be important in terms of life-history evolution.