Previous studies of sex roles in the polygynous Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus have shown that males incubate less than females, perhaps suggesting that sexual selection is important in shaping the parental behaviour of this species. The purpose of this study was to (1) examine for the first time the possibility that males compensate for low diurnal nest attentiveness by increasing their nocturnal assistance and (2) evaluate the hypotheses that sexual selection and individual breeding quality determines incubation behaviour in lapwings. Males were never found incubating at night in 19 nests, although median diurnal male attentiveness was 15.3% in 16 of the same pairs. Nor were there any differences among monogamous and polygynous males in the time spent in four categories of behaviour (incubation, guarding, maintenance and mating activities). The time males spent in mating and incubation behaviours was weakly negatively correlated, and the time spent incubating varied considerably among males (0–74%). Further, female body condition was positively related with male nest attentiveness and there was a negative relationship between nest attentiveness and date of arrival to the study area in monogamous, but not in polygynous, males. We argue that sexual selection could not alone explain all sides of Northern Lapwing incubation, and suggest that individual differences in breeding quality may also be important.