When females copulate with multiple males the potential exists for female sperm choice. Females may increase the probability of being fertilized by preferred males by selectively retaining their sperm while ejecting the sperm of unfavoured males. An alternative criterion to male quality for female sperm choice may be sperm age because old sperm degrade and can lead to zygote death or unhealthy offspring. Here, we report that in a genetically monogamous bird, the black–legged kittiwake Rissa tridactyla, females eject their mates' sperm according to when the copulations were performed. Following copulations that were performed approximately two weeks before egg laying, females ejected inseminations at high frequencies while retaining inseminations that occurred soon before laying. Females that suffered hatching failure had ejected sperm from early copulations less than half as frequently as females whose entire clutches hatched. Furthermore, chicks that hatched from eggs fertilized by old sperm were in poor condition relative to those fertilized by young sperm. These findings support the ‘young sperm’ hypothesis, which predicts that females choose fresh sperm to avoid reproductive failure and are the first to show intra–male sperm choice by females.