Sexual selection theory predicts that sexually selected ornaments are costly to maintain and, as condition-dependent signals, are likely to vary in attractiveness with season and age. Mute swans Cygnus olor possess a black, fleshy knob at the base of the bill, which is present in both sexes. Using measures calculated from digital photographs taken over two years we monitored changes in the size of the bill knob in individual swans throughout the breeding season. Our longitudinal data show that bill knob size is highly dynamic. Relative bill knob size was larger in males than females and was consistently greater for breeding males than for non-breeders. For males, relative bill knob size peaked during cygnet hatching, when male protection of the brood is most important, and was smallest during moult. In females, breeders had larger bill knobs than non-breeders at all times apart from immediately after egg-laying and incubation, when the reverse was true, presumably reflecting the costs of reproduction. Body mass was a highly significant predictor of relative bill knob size in both sexes, as was age, with an initial increase and then later a decline in relative ornament size across the lifetime of male birds. The bill knob ornament in mute swans thus appears to be a condition-dependent, highly malleable trait. It accurately reflects the differing pressures experienced by individual birds as they progress through the breeding season, suggesting selection by both intra- and inter-sexual forces.