The direction of predator-mediated selection on brain size is debated. However, the speed and the accuracy of performing a task cannot be simultaneously maximized. Large-brained individuals may be predisposed to accurate but slow decision-making, beneficial under high predation risk, but costly under low risk. This creates the possibility of temporally fluctuating selection on brain size depending on overall predation risk. We test this idea in nesting wild eider females (Somateria mollissima), in which head volume is tightly linked to brain mass (r(2) = 0.73). We determined how female relative head volume relates to survival, and characterized the seasonal timing of predation. Previous work suggests that relatively large-brained and small-brained females make slow versus fast nest-site decisions, respectively, and that predation events occur seasonally earlier when predation is severe. Large-brained, late-breeding females may therefore have higher survival during high-predation years, but lower survival during safe years, assuming that predation disproportionately affects late breeders in such years. Relatively large-headed females outsurvived smaller-headed females during dangerous years, whereas the opposite was true in safer years. Predation events occurred relatively later during safe years. Fluctuations in the direction of survival selection on relative brain size may therefore arise due to brain-size dependent breeding phenology.