Fish that perform paternal care may increase their fitness by choosing nest sites that enhance survival and development of embryos. We studied nest-site choice with respect to dissolved oxygen concentration and water temperature in males of the three-spined stickleback ( Gasterosteus aculeatus ), a small fish species with exclusive male parental care that usually breeds in the littoral zone of freshwaters of the Northern hemisphere. Fathers oxygenate the embryos by fanning movements of their pectoral fins. We expected choice for conditions at potential nest sites that would benefit offspring development, i.e., higher temperature and higher dissolved oxygen concentration. In the laboratory, we offered males a choice between two potential nest sites that differed in dissolved oxygen concentration or water temperature. Males preferred to build a nest at sites with a higher dissolved oxygen level or higher temperature and thus chose sites that would promote embryo development. Electronic supplementary material The online version of this article (10.1007/s10750-020-04470-0) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.