Population growth in passerine birds is largely driven by fecundity. If fecundity is affected, for instance by hatching failure, populations may decline. We noted high hatching failure of up to 27% per year in relict populations of the Northern wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) in The Netherlands, a strongly declining, migratory passerine in Europe. This hatching failure itself can cause population decline, irrespective of other adverse factors. Additionally, we investigated the cause of hatching failure. Unhatched eggs showed egg yolk infections or embryonic malformations, part of which is associated with the actions of dioxin-like compounds (DLCs). Indeed, DLCs appear to bioaccumulate in the local foodweb, where the soil contained only background concentrations, similar to those found at many other locations. DLC concentrations in Dutch eggs were six-fold higher than those in a reference population in Sweden, where egg failure was only 6%. However, Northern wheatears appear to be only moderately sensitive to the actions of DLCs, because of their specific Ah-receptor type which may moderate the receptor mediated effects of DLCs. This indicates that the concentrations of DLCs, although elevated, may not have caused the embryo malformations or the low hatching rates. We discuss whether other toxins may be important or imbalances in the nutrition and if inbreeding may play a larger role than expected.