Life-history theory proposes that costs must be associated with reproduction. Many direct costs are incurred during breeding. There is also evidence for indirect costs, incurred after breeding, which decrease survival and future reproductive success. One possible indirect cost identified in birds is that breeding activity in some way compromises plumage quality in the subsequent moult. Here we propose a mechanism by which this could occur. Breeding activity delays the start of moult. Birds that start to moult later also moult more rapidly--an effect of decreasing daylength. Could this result in poorer quality plumage? We kept two groups of male European starlings, Sturnus vulgaris, one on constant long days and the other on decreasing daylengths from the start of moult. Decreasing daylengths reduced the duration of moult from 103 +/- 4 days to 73 +/- 3 days (p < 0.0001). Newly grown primary feathers of birds that moulted fast were slightly shorter, weighed less (p < 0.05) and were more asymmetrical. They had a thinner rachis (p < 0.005), were less hard (p < 0.01) and less rigid (p < 0.05). They were also less resistant to wear so that differences in mass and asymmetry increased with time. There was no difference in Young's modulus. Poorer quality plumage will lead to decreased survival due to decreased flight performance and increased thermoregulatory costs. Thus, reproduction incurs costs through a mechanism that operates after the end of breeding.