Parental care is a cooperative venture between a male and a female in many socially monogamous birds. Care is costly, and thus, sexual conflict arises between the parents about how much effort they should invest into rearing their young. The sexual conflict over care is most apparent when one parent abandons the brood before the offspring are independent. The deserted parent has three options: (1) desert the brood because a single parent is unable to raise the young on its own; (2) continue care provision at the same level as during biparental care, and thus do not compensate for the absence of mate; or (3) increase care and compensate partially or totally. We investigated these options in the magnificent frigatebird, Fregata magnificens, a species in which the male deserts his mate and brood before the chick is independent. During biparental care, females fed the chick more often than the males. After their mate deserted, the females nearly doubled their feeding rate and thus, fully compensated for the lost care. Consistent with these observations, growth rates of chicks provided with biparental and female-only care did not differ. These results support recent theoretical models of parental care, and suggest that females may withhold care during biparental care to manoeuvre their mates into prolonged care provision. A female only provides at her full capacity once her mate has deserted. (C) 2004 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.