The toxicities of mercuric chloride (HgCl(,2)) and methylmercuric chloride (CH(,3)HgCl) were compared for coturnix (Coturnix coturnix japonica) from hatching to adulthood. Comparisons were based on: (1) Median lethal dosages (LD50) derived by administering single peroral and single intramuscular dosages of mercury, (2) median lethal concentrations (LC50) derived by feeding mercury for 5 days, (3) median toxic concentrations (TC50) derived by feeding mercury 9 weeks and measuring plasma enzyme activity, plasma electrolytes, and other blood constituents, and (4) transient changes of various blood chemistries following a single peroral dose of mercury. Acute peroral and intramuscular LD50s for HgCl(,2) and CH(,3)HgCl increased by two- to threefold for coturnix chicks from hatching to 4 weeks of age. Concomitantly, the LC50s also increased, but the important difference between test procedures was that with both single dose routes of exposure the toxicity ratios, i.e., HgCl(,2)/CH(,3)HgCl, at each age were about 2 to 2.5 compared to about 100 for the LC50s. For example, at 2 weeks of age the peroral LD50s for HgCl(,2) and CH(,3)HgCl were 42 and 18 mg/kg; the dietary LC50s were 5086 and 47 ppm for HgCl(,2) and CH(,3)HgCl. The 9 week feeding trial was not associated with gross effects from either HgCl(,2) at 0.5 to 32 ppm or CH(,3)HgCl at 0.125 to 8 ppm. However, subtle responses were detected for the plasma enzymes aspartate aminotransferase, lactate dehydrogenase, and ornithine carbamoyl transferase and could be quantified by probit analysis. This quantal procedure was based on establishment of a normal value for each enzyme and classing outliers as respondents. A 'hazard index' based on the TC50 for an enzyme divided by the LD50 or LC50 was introduced. The single oral dosages of HgCl(,2) and CH(,3)HgCl showed that ratios of alanine aminotransferase, lactate dehydrogenase, and orinthine carbamoyl transferase for the liver and kidneys of adult coturnix were opposite from that accepted for mammals. It was concluded that a chronic study of sublethal responses of young birds should be required in addition to the current toxicity screens used for regulatory purposes.