Species with 'slow' life history strategies (long life, low fecundity) are thought to produce high-quality offspring by investing in larger, but fewer, young. Larger eggs are indeed associated with fewer eggs across taxa and can yield higher-quality offspring. Tropical passerines appear to follow theory because they commonly exhibit slow life history strategies and produce larger, but fewer, eggs compared with northern species. Yet, I show here that relative egg mass (corrected for adult mass) varies extensively in the tropics and subtropics for the same clutch size, and this variation is unexplained. I propose a hypothesis to explain egg size variation both within the tropics and between latitudes: Relative egg mass increases in species with cooler egg temperatures and longer embryonic periods to offset associated increases in energetic requirements of embryos. Egg temperatures of birds are determined by parental incubation behavior and are often cooler among tropical passerines because of reduced parental attentiveness of eggs. Here, I show that cooler egg temperatures and longer embryonic periods explained the enigmatic variation in egg mass within and among regions, based on field studies in tropical Venezuela (36 species), subtropical Argentina (16 species), and north temperate Arizona (20 species). Alternative explanations are not supported. Thus, large egg sizes may reflect compensation for increased energetic requirements of cool egg temperatures and long embryonic periods that result from reduced parental attentiveness in tropical birds. ?? 2008 by The National Academy of Sciences of the USA.