Abstract Life-history theory predicts that differences in reproductive effort and residual reproductive value among species should result in differences in the level of risk that parents are willing to tolerate to themselves versus their offspring. Specifically, highly fecund and shorter-lived species are expected to place greater value in current offspring than themselves, whereas less fecund and longer-lived species are expected to place greater value in their own survival and future breeding opportunities. Here, we test the prediction that parental investment decisions are correlated with life histories by comparing risk-taking behaviour in two species of nuthatch that differ in reproductive effort: the white-breasted nuthatch,Sitta carolinensis (more fecund, lower survival) and the red-breasted nuthatch, S.canadensis (less fecund, higher survival). We experimentally manipulated stage-specific predation risk by presenting models of an adult predator (hawk) and an egg predator (wren) and measured the willingness of males to feed incubating females on the nest. We found that both species of nuthatch responded to predators by increasing the length of time between visits and aborting more visits to the nest. However, as predicted by their life histories, S.carolinensis displayed a significantly stronger response to the egg predator, whereas S.canadensis responded more strongly to the adult predator. Thus, species can differ in their willingness to tolerate risk to themselves and their young, and such differences appear to be related to differences in investment in current reproduction and the probability of future survival.