Breeding long-tailed tits were studied to determine the significance of a hovering display performed by birds bringing food to nestlings. Its contexts implied that it represents communication to other adults, rather than to nestlings, or predators. Three-quarters of nests with young were attended by one or two 'helpers' as well as the parents, and all birds made hover displays. Feeding visits to the nest tended to be synchronous. This pattern was related to the hover display, which if performed by the second of two birds visiting the nest together caused them to return more quickly, and more often synchronously than if there was no display. Two functional aspects of this effect were tested. It did not serve to accelerate food delivery to nestlings after they had been deprived, nor did it minimise the presence of adults near nests that were most vulnerable to predation. The importance of the display may lie in its promotion of communal foraging by the adults.