Unfavourable conditions throughout the period of parental care can severely affect growth, reproductive performance, and survival. Yet, individuals may be affected differently, depending on the developmental period during which constraints are experienced. Here we tested whether the nestling phase compared to the fledgling phase is more susceptible to nutritional stress by considering biometry, physiology, sexually selected male ornaments and survival using zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) as a model species. As nestlings (day 0–17) or fledglings (day 17–35), subjects were raised either on low or high quality food. A low quality diet resulted in significantly elevated baseline corticosterone titres in both nestlings and fledglings. Subjects showed substantial compensatory growth after they had experienced low quality food as nestlings but catch-up growth did neither lead to elevated baseline corticosterone titres nor did we detect long term effects on biometry, male cheek patch, or survival. The compensation for temporally unfavourable environmental conditions reflects substantial phenotypic plasticity and the results show that costs of catch-up growth were not mediated via corticosterone as a physiological correlate of allostatic load. These findings provide new insights into the mechanisms and plasticity with which animals respond to periods of constraints during development as they may occur in a mistiming of breeding.