Bright yellow to red signals used in mate choice or intrasexual competition are based on carotenoid pigments that are hypothesized to be traded between physiological functions and coloration. These signals have recently been shown to be influenced by maternal effects. Indeed, yolk-derived carotenoids are essential for embryos to develop efficient carotenoid metabolism in posthatching life. Maternal effects facilitate adaptation to environmental variability and influence the evolution of phenotypic traits such as secondary sexual signals. Here we propose that maternal investment in yolk carotenoids promotes the evolution of carotenoid-based ornaments. We conducted a comparative analysis of lipid-soluble antioxidants (carotenoids and vitamins A and E) in the eggs of 112 species of bird. Species with large clutch sizes deposited higher yolk concentrations of the three antioxidants. There was a significant positive relationship between yolk carotenoids and the expression of male carotenoid-based signals, but not between yolk carotenoids and sexual dichromatism in these signals. These relationships were specific to carotenoids, as they were not found for vitamins A and E. This provides evidence consistent with the hypothesis that maternal effects mediated by yolk carotenoids play a role in the evolution of carotenoid-based signals as a response to sexual selection, likely based on organizational effects of carotenoids during embryo development.