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Different phases of the annual cycle in birds and mammals are often associated with characteristic and recurrent foraging behaviours. The extent to which stage-dependent changes in foraging behaviour are caused by intrinsic or extrinsic factors is unclear. We controlled for the effects of extrinsic factors by synchronising groups of incubating and chick-rearing black-legged kittiwakes Rissa tridactyla. Synchrony amongst incubators and rearers was achieved experimentally by switching eggs between nests. Behavioural responses to the treatment varied between the sexes. Male kittiwakes with prolonged-incubation made fewer foraging trips but of greater duration compared to those rearing chicks resulting in no change in the time spent on trips between the two groups. Females with prolonged-incubation carried out fewer trips than those rearing chicks but trip duration did not differ between the two stages which resulted in prolonged-incubating birds spending a lower percentage time on trips. In contrast, foraging ranges did not differ between prolonged-incubation and chick-rearing birds for either sex. This suggests that extrinsic factors, such as food availability and distribution determine kittiwake foraging locations and ranges, whereas intrinsic factors, reflected in parental duties, constrain nest attendance. Female prolonged-incubators invested lower levels of parental effort, in terms of daily energy expenditure, compared to chick-rearers whereas males did not show stage-related differences in energy expenditure. This provides evidence that incubation could be an energetically cheaper stage although under normal conditions this difference may be masked by temporal variation in environmental factors. We conclude that while conditions differ between the incubation and chick rearing stages for kittiwakes at this colony, they are not the main factors prompting changes in stage-related foraging patterns. Intrinsic factors such as sex differences, or behaviours required for each stage of the annual cycle, rather than extrinsic factors related to seasonal environments, are likely to be the main proximate cause of recurring changes in behaviour between breeding stages.