In most bird species, pairs copulate many times before egg laying. The exact function of repeated inseminations (i.e. successful copulations) is unknown, but several suggestions have been made. We tested the hypothesis that repeated inseminations are required to ensure fertilization of eggs, by using an experimental method where free–ranging male collared flycatchers (Ficedula albicollis) were prevented from inseminating their mates. We show that egg fertility was lower when females had not copulated during the studied part of their fertile period. By counting sperm on the inner perivitelline layer of eggs, we estimated that a minimum of 86 sperm must reach the site of fertilization to ensure average fertility. Using the timing of inseminations and the numbers of sperm on successive eggs, we show that repeated copulations are necessary to achieve an average rate of fertilization of a single clutch. Our results thus provide evidence that repeated inseminations function to ensure fertilization success. We discuss possible constraints on sperm production and utilization that may have contributed to this pattern.