Effects of ambient temperature on the acute oral toxicity of parathion were investigated in Japanese quail (Coturnix japonica) maintained at thermoneutral temperature (26.degree. C) or exposed to elevated (37.degree. C) or reduced (4.degree. C) temperatures commonly encountered by free-ranging wild birds. Based upon estimates of the median lethal dosage, there was up to a two-fold enhancement of parathion toxicity in birds chronically exposed to heat or cold. Twenty-four hours after administration of a low dosage (4 mg/kg body wt, po), there was markedly greater cholinesterase inhibition in surviving heat-exposed quail compared with those reared at 26.degree. C (e.g., brain acetylcholinesterase depression of 42% versus 12%). There were no differences in hepatic activities of parathion oxidase, paraoxonase, or paraoxon deethylase which could account for greater toxicity to chronically heat-exposed birds. In contrast, 4 mg parathion/kg wt elicited less plasma cholinesterase inhibition in cold-exposed quail compared to thermoneutral controls (e.g., < 10% versus 48% depression after 24 hr). Increased liver weight and a doubling of paraoxonase activity may have been associated with greater tolerance to sublethal doses of parathion in chronically cold-exposed quail. These findings, together with limited field observations, indicate that the hazard associated with anticholinesterase exposure of wild birds is substantially influenced by environmental temperature.