In most bird species there is only a short time window available for optimal breeding due to variation in ecological conditions in a seasonal environment. Long-distance migrants must travel before they start breeding, and conditions at the wintering grounds and during migration may affect travelling speed and hence arrival and breeding dates. These effects are to a large extent determined by climate variables such as rainfall and temperature, and need to be identified to predict how well species can adapt to climate change. In this paper we analyse effects of vegetation growth on the wintering grounds and sites en route on the annual timing of breeding of 17 populations of Pied Flycatchers Ficedula hypoleuca studied between 1982–2000. Timing of breeding was largely correlated with local spring temperatures, supplemented by striking effects of African vegetation and NAO. Populations differed in the effects of vegetation growth on the wintering grounds, and on their northern African staging grounds, as well as ecological conditions in Europe as measured by the winter NAO. In general, early breeding populations (low altitude, western European populations) bred earlier in years with more vegetation in the Northern Sahel zone, as well as in Northern Africa. In contrast, late breeding populations (high altitude and northern and eastern populations) advanced their breeding dates when circumstances in Europe were more advanced (high NAO). Thus, timing of breeding in most Pied Flycatcher populations not only depends upon local circumstances, but also on conditions encountered during travelling, and these effects differ across populations dependent on the timing of travelling and breeding.