Two commonly used techniques for estimating the effect of genes on traits in wild populations are the candidate gene approach and quantitative genetic analyses. However, whether these two approaches measure the same underlying processes remains unresolved. Here, we use these two methods to test whether they are alternative or complementary approaches to understanding genetic variation in the timing of reproduction - a key trait involved in adaptation to climate change - in wild tit populations. Our analyses of the candidate gene Clock show weak correlates with timing variables in blue tits, but no association in great tits, confirming earlier results. Quantitative genetic analyses revealed very low levels of both direct (female) and indirect (male) additive genetic variation in timing traits for both species, in contrast to previous studies on these traits, and much lower than generally assumed. Hence, neither method suggests strong genetic effects on the timing of breeding in birds, and further work should seek to assess the generality of these conclusions. We discuss how differences in the genetic control of traits, species life-history and confounding environmental variables may determine how useful integrating these two techniques is to understand the phenotypic variation in wild populations.