Poor nutrition and other challenges during infancy can impose delayed costs, and it has been proposed that expression of costs during adulthood should involve increased mortality rather than reduced reproduction. Demonstrations of delayed costs come mostly from experimental manipulations of the diet and hormones of captive infants of short-lived species, and we know very little about how natural poor starts in life affect wild animals over their lifetimes. In the blue-footed booby, sibling conflict obliges younger brood members to grow up suffering aggressive subordination, food deprivation and elevated stress hormone, but surviving fledglings showed no deficit in reproduction over the first 5-10 years. A study of 7927 individuals from two-fledgling and singleton broods from 20 cohorts found no significant evidence of a higher rate of mortality nor a lower rate of recruitment in younger fledglings than in elder fledglings or singletons at any age over the 20 year lifespan. Development of boobies may be buffered against the three challenges of subordination. Experimental challenges to neonates that result in delayed costs have usually been more severe, more prolonged and more abruptly suspended, and it is unclear which natural situations they mimic. © 2011 The Royal Society.