Telomeres are dynamic DNA-protein structures that form protective caps at the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes. Although initial telomere length is partly genetically determined, subsequent accelerated telomere shortening has been linked to elevated levels of oxidative stress. Recent studies show that short telomere length alone is insufficient to induce cellular senescence; advanced attrition of these repetitive DNA sequences does, however, reflect ageing processes. Furthermore, telomeres vary widely in length between individuals of the same age, suggesting that individuals differ in their exposure or response to telomere-shortening stress factors. Here, we show that residual telomere length predicts fitness components in two phylogenetically distant bird species: longevity in sand martins, Riparia riparia, and lifetime reproductive success in dunlins, Calidris alpina. Our results therefore imply that individuals with longer than expected telomeres for their age are of higher quality.