To evolve and to be maintained, seasonal migration, despite its risks, has to yield fitness benefits compared with year-round residency. Empirical data supporting this prediction have remained elusive in the bird literature. To test fitness related benefits of migration, we studied a partial migratory population of European blackbirds (Turdus merula) over 7 years. Using a combination of capture-mark-recapture and radio telemetry, we compared survival probabilities between migrants and residents estimated by multi-event survival models, showing that migrant blackbirds had 16% higher probability to survive the winter compared to residents. A subsequent modelling exercise revealed that residents should have 61.25% higher breeding success than migrants, to outweigh the survival costs of residency. Our results support theoretical models that migration should confer survival benefits to evolve, and thus provide empirical evidence to understand the evolution and maintenance of migration.