Organisms should respond more aggressively towards species perceived as a danger to their offspring, but intensity of defence may be gauged by the value of current offspring weighed against the value of future reproductive opportunities. We tested whether defensive responses of nesting reed warblers (Acrocephalus scirpaceus) are the result of an interaction effect between the type of stimulus confronted and the value of the warbler’s nesting attempt. We quantified the ability of reed warblers to discriminate among brood parasites, nestling predators and non-threatening species at different stages of the breeding cycle. We also determined whether variables that influence the value of offspring, such as time of season, size and age of clutch or brood, and time of day and number of visits to the nest, explain variation in the intensity of defence recorded during the egg and nestling stages. Responses to the three stimuli differed significantly, as reed warblers consistently directed their mobbing calls and attacks towards parasites, whereas they were less conspicuous when confronted with models of predators. Reed warblers modulated their responses towards each stimulus in accordance with the threat each posed at a specific nesting stage, whereas they were not affected by other variables relative to their reproductive potential. The churr call, however, was uttered independently of the stimulus, as it was triggered by the mere presence of nestlings in the nest.