1. Climate change has been shown to affect the phenology of many organisms, but interestingly these shifts are often unequal across trophic levels, causing a mismatch between the phenology of organisms and their food. 2. We consider two alternative hypotheses: consumers are constrained to adjust sufficiently to the lower trophic level, or prey species react more strongly than their predators to reduce predation. We discuss both hypotheses with our analyses of changes in phenology across four trophic levels: tree budburst, peak biomass of herbivorous caterpillars, breeding phenology of four insectivorous bird species and an avian predator. 3. In our long-term study, we show that between 1988 and 2005, budburst advanced (not significantly) with 0·17 d yr−1, while between 1985 and 2005 both caterpillars (0·75 d year−1) and the hatching date of the passerine species (range for four species: 0·36–0·50 d year−1) have advanced, whereas raptor hatching dates showed no trend. 4. The caterpillar peak date was closely correlated with budburst date, as were the passerine hatching dates with the peak caterpillar biomass date. In all these cases, however, the slopes were significantly less than unity, showing that the response of the consumers is weaker than that of their food. This was also true for the avian predator, for which hatching dates were not correlated with the peak availability of fledgling passerines. As a result, the match between food demand and availabili 5. These results could equally well be explained by consumers' insufficient responses as a consequence of constraints in adapting to climate change, or by them trying to escape predation from a higher trophic level, or both. Selection on phenology could thus be both from matches of phenology with higher and lower levels, and quantifying these can shed new light on why some organisms do adjust their phenology to climate change, while others do not.