We studied the body mass variation from autumn to winter, in a free-living population of willow tits ( Parus montanus), a food-hoarding passerine living year-round in boreal forests. Our aim was to find out whether this population exhibits 'winter fattening' as part of the annual body mass cycle. 'True winter fattening' is considered to be a strategic response to winter conditions. The strategy includes an increase in both the morning mass and the daily mass increase, as winter approaches. A multivariate approach was used to find which predictors (year, date, age, sex, body size, temperature and snow depth) explained the mass variation in birds measured twice per day. Morning mass variation was explained by sex, age, wing length and snow depth. Independently, date explained morning mass variation only in adult males. None of the predictors explained the variation observed in daily mass increase in any age or sex class. Therefore, we failed to detect winter fattening in our study population of willow tits. Response to increasing night length is not due to higher absolute intake, but to higher energy acquisition rate and decreased night-time energy consumption. The results suggest that willow tits at high latitudes manage increasing energy demands on a short-term basis and respond flexibly to changing conditions by adjusting foraging efficiency and especially night-time energy expenditure.