Little is known about the maternal transfer of antibodies in natural host-parasite systems despite its possible evolutionary and ecological implications. In domestic animals, the maternal transfer of antibodies can enhance offspring survival via a temporary protection against parasites, but it can also interfere with the juvenile immune response to antigens. We tested the functional role of maternal antibodies in a natural population of a long-lived colonial seabird, the kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla), using a vaccine (Newcastle disease virus vaccine) to mimic parasite exposure combined with a cross-fostering design. We first investigated the role of prior maternal exposure on the interannual transmission of Ab to juveniles. We then tested the effect of these antibodies on the juvenile immune response to the same antigen. The results show that specific maternal antibodies were transferred to chicks 1 year after maternal exposure and that these antibodies were functional, i.e. they affected juvenile immunity. These results suggest that the role of maternal antibodies may depend on the timing and pattern of offspring exposure to parasites, along with the patterns of maternal exposure and the dynamics of her immune response. Overall, our approach underlines that although the transgenerational transfer of antibodies in natural populations is likely to have broad implications, the nature of these effects may vary dramatically among host-parasite systems, depending on the physiological mechanisms involved and the ecological context.