Developmental periods are integral components of life history strategies that can have important fitness consequences and vary enormously among organisms. However, the selection pressures and mechanisms causing variation in length of developmental periods are poorly understood. Particularly puzzling are prolonged developmental periods, because their selective advantage is unclear. Here we tested the hypotheses that immune function is stronger in species that are attacked at a higher rate by parasites and that prolonged embryonic development allows the development of this stronger immune system. Through a comparative field study among 12 coexisting passerine bird species, we show that species with higher blood parasite prevalence mounted stronger cellular immune responses than species with lower prevalence. These results provide support for the hypothesis that species facing greater selection pressure from parasites invest more in immune function. However, species with longer incubation periods mounted weaker cellular immune responses than species with shorter periods. Therefore, cellular immune responses do not support the hypothesis that longer development time enhances immunocompentence. Future studies should assess other components of the immune system and test alternative causes of variation in incubation periods among bird species. ?? Springer-Verlag 2005.