Ornaments displayed by females have often been denied evolutionary interest due to their frequently reduced expression relative to males, habitually attributed to a genetic correlation between the sexes. We estimated annual and lifetime reproductive success of female pied flycatchers (Ficedula hypoleuca) and applied capture–mark–recapture models to analyse annual survival rates in relation to the patterns of expression (absence/presence) of an ornament displayed by all males and a fraction of females. Overall, the likelihood of expressing the ornament increased nonlinearly with female age and was due to within-individual variation, not to the selective appearance or disappearance of ornament-related expression of phenotypes in the population. Accordingly, expressing the forehead patch in a given year did not influence survival probability. However, those females expressing the ornament at early ages (1–2 years old) enjoyed survival advantages throughout lifetime. Although ornamented females had higher lifetime fecundity and fledging success, their yearly reproductive performance, in terms of fledging productivity, decreased as they aged so that, late in life, ornamented females reared fewer offspring than nonexpressing females of the same age. In addition, both strategies (expressing vs. not expressing the trait) returned similar fitness payoffs in terms of recruited offspring. Our results support the hypothesis that fecundity and survival selection are involved in the displaying of this ‘male’ ornament by females.