Breeding female mallard ducks consuming petroleum-contaminated food show significant induced increases in the naphthalene-metabolizing properties of microsomes prepared from their livers. Food contaminated with South Louisiana crude oil was more potent than food contaminated with similar concentrations of Prudhoe Bay crude oil and in each instance food contaminated with 3% (v/w) induced greater increases than food contaminated at the 1% level. These increases in hepatic naphthalene-metabolizing activity may reflect their responses to circulating petroleum contaminants derived from ingested crude oil. When incubated, fertilized eggs laid by the females consuming South Louisiana crude oil yielded ducklings that upon emergence possessed high levels of naphthalene-metabolizing activity associated with hepatic microsomes. In contrast, ducklings derived from eggs laid by females consuming food contaminated with Prudhoe Bay crude oil showed no increases in total hepatic naphthalene-metabolizing activity and only those ducklings hatched from eggs laid by females consuming food contaminated with 3% crude oil showed significantly induced levels of specific naphthalene-metabolizing activity at hatching. During the first week of postnatal life both the uncontaminated ducklings and the ducklings hatched from eggs laid by females consuming food contaminated with South Louisiana crude oil showed initial transient rises in specific and total hepatic naphthalene-metabolizing activity. In each instance, these rises were proportional to the level of contamination in the food consumed by the females. Thereafter, the specific activities of the naphthalene-metabolizing enzyme in all ducklings declined to the level found at hatching in uncontaminated ducklings. Similarly, the total hepatic naphthalene-metabolizing activities in ducklings derived from females consuming food contaminated with 3% crude oil also declined to the level at hatching in uncontaminated ducklings. In contrast, after one week, ducklings hatched from eggs laid by females consuming food contaminated with 1% crude oil showed total hepatic naphthalene-metabolizing activities that were more than twice those found at hatching.