Sexual differences in food provisioning rates of monomorphic seabirds are well known but poorly understood. Here, we address three hypotheses that attempt to explain female-biased food provisioning in common guillemots Uria aalge: (1) males spend more time in nest defence, (2) females have greater foraging efficiency, and (3) males allocate a greater proportion of foraging effort to self-maintenance. We found that males spent no more time with chicks than females but made longer trips and travelled further from the colony. There was extensive overlap between sexes in core foraging areas, indicating that females were not excluding males from feeding opportunities close to the colony. However, as a result of their longer trips, the total foraging areas of males were much greater than those of females. There was no difference between sexes in overall dive rate per hour at sea, in behaviour during individual dives or in a number of other measures of foraging efficiency including the frequency, depth and duration of dives and the dive: pause ratio during the final dive bout of each trip, which was presumably used by both sexes to obtain prey for the chick. These data strongly suggest that sexes did not differ in their ability to locate and capture prey. Yet males made almost twice as many dives per trip as females, suggesting that males made more dives than females for their own benefit. These results support the hypothesis that female-biased food provisioning arose from a difference between sexes in the allocation of foraging effort between parents and offspring, in anticipation of a prolonged period of male-only post-fledging care of the chick, and not from differences in foraging efficiency or time spent in nest defence.