We examined the relative contributions of egg size, parental quality and hatch-date to growth and survival of second-hatched chicks (those chicks making the greatest contribution to differences in productivity among pairs) by exchanging clutches among nests of Common Terns Sterna hirundo matched for lay-date (range 13 May to 9 June). The mass of a second-laid egg in an exchanged clutch ranged from 17.70 to 23.80 g. Growth and survival were studied during three periods: early (days 0-3), middle (days 3-12) and late (days 12-25). Both egg mass and hatch-date were important predictors of hatchling mass (positive relationships), although there was no seasonal trend in egg mass. During the middle period, hatch-date was a significant predictor of mass gain and survival (inverse relationships). After controlling for hatch-date, other indices of parental quality made only small contributions to chick mass gain and survival. Our results suggest that although breeding early generally leads to greater overall survival of chicks, several important interactions among egg 'quality', parental quality and early laying may affect breeding success under specific conditions. ?? 2006 British Ornithologists' Union.