Bacteria play a central role in animal health. Yet, little is known about the acquisition of bacteria and the extent to which bacteria are acquired from different environmental sources. For example, bird nests host diverse bacteria associated with the eggs, nestlings and nesting material, but previous research has typically focussed on only a limited number of nest components at a time. It therefore remains unknown to what extent bacteria are transmitted between these components. Using both molecular and culture techniques, we characterised nestassociated bacterial assemblages throughout the entire nesting cycle of reed warblers by sampling bacteria on eggs before and during incubation, within nestling faeces, and on the nesting material of post-breeding nests. We found that bacterial assemblages clustered by nest component. Yet some overlap existed between nest components, suggesting that bacterial transmission across components is likely to occur. Eggs and nestlings from the same nest harboured more similar bacteria than expected by chance, suggesting an influence of environment or genetics on bacterial assemblages. Bacterial loads were not lower on incubated eggs. Instead, incubation was associated with a change in the structure of assemblages, including a decrease in potentially-harmful Gram-negative bacteria. In addition we show for the first time, that incubation is associated with the complete extinction of harmful haemolytic bacteria. Overall, our study appears to be the first to demonstrate differences in bacterial assemblages between bird nest components. In addition, we highlight the complexity of nest bacterial assemblages and provide new insights into the benefits of incubation.