Carotenoids are important dietary constituents in birds. They serve as pigments and play numerous physiological roles in both the laying hen and developing embryo. However, factors determining the absorption of carotenoids and their allocation to different functions are numerous and complex, and causal relationships are generally poorly known. Our objective was to determine the degree to which carotenoid levels in egg yolks and the plasma of hens were influenced by differences in diet and reproductive output in captive red-legged partridges. Carotenoid concentrations were measured by high performance liquid chromatography in two feeds (high and low carotenoid content) and in yolks and plasma of hens near the start and end of laying. Early in the laying season, plasma and yolk carotenoids varied with diet and were correlated with one another. Late in the season, a dietary effect was evident only for yolks, and there was no relationship between plasma and egg levels of individual hens. However, plasma carotenoids at the end of laying were strongly correlated with the number of eggs that had been laid. Dietary availability, although important, could explain some variation in carotenoid levels in plasma and egg yolks only in the context of reproductive history.