Selenium, cadmium, mercury, copper, manganese, zinc, aluminum, lead, PCBs and DDE were accumulated by segments of the surf scoter (Melanitta perspicillata) population that winters in the Pacific Northwest, but whether the uptake occurred on breeding and/or wintering grounds was uncertain for some contaminants. Surf scoters collected in Puget Sound and San Francisco Bay (in another study) during the same period (January 1985) contained similar concentrations of cadmium, but Alsea Bay scoters contained more. Cadmium was inversely related to both liver and body weights of Northwest scoters in January; similar weight losses were reported in experimental laboratory studies. Northwest and north San Francisco Bay scoters contained similar mercury concentrations, but those in south San Francisco Bay contained higher concentrations. San Francisco Bay scoters contained higher arsenic and selenium concentrations than those in the Northwest; however, the 43.4 ppm (geometric mean, dry wt) selenium in livers at Commencement Bay in January was above levels associated with the reproductive problems in aquatic birds at Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge. Even higher concentrations of some elements may be found in surf scoters in March, because a later collection (March) at San Francisco Bay yielded higher concentrations than found there in January. Trace element concentrations in birds at a given wintering location are variable among species and may be influenced by diet, breeding grounds, and physiology (e.g., at Commencement Bay surf scoters with a sediment-associated diet contained 50X more cadmium in their kidneys than did fish-eating western grebes [Aechmophorus occidentalis]). The numerous wildlife species that live on estuaries require further attention.