Recent climate change has sparked an interest in the timing of biological events, which is a general problem in life-history evolution. Reproduction in many organisms breeding in seasonal environments, e.g. migratory birds, is dependent on the exploitation of a short but rich food supply. If the seasonal timing of the food peak advances owing to climate change, then one would expect the bird to track those changes, hence, initiate migration and breeding earlier. However, when there is competition for territories and a risk of pre-breeding mortality, the optimal response to a shifting food distribution is no longer obvious. We develop a theoretical model to study how the optimal arrival time depends on the mean and variance of the food distribution, the degree of competition for territories and the risk of mortality. In general, the optimal shift in arrival date should never be as extreme as the shift in food peak date. Our results also show that we should expect the high variation of trends in arrival date observed among migratory birds, even if migration and information about climate change were unconstrained.