Planar PCB congeners are embryotoxic and teratogenic to birds including American kestrels. The developmental toxicity of 3,3',4,4',5-pentachlorobiphenyl (PCB 126) was studied in the post-hatching kestrel as a model for the eagle. Nestlings were orally dosed for 10 days with 5 ul/g body weight of corn oil (controls) or the planar PCB 126 at concentrations of 50, 250, or 1000 ng/g body weight. Dosing with 50 ng/g of PCB 126 resulted in a hepatic concentration of 156 ng/g w.w., liver enlargement and mild coagulative necrosis, and over ten-fold increases in hepatic microsomal ethoxyresorufin-O-dealkylase (EROD) and benzyloxyresorufin-O-dealkylase (BROD), and approximately a 5-fold increase in methoxyresorufin-O-dealkylase (MROD). At this dose, mild to moderate lymphoid depletion of the spleen was apparent, and decreased follicle size and content of the thyroid. At 250 ng/g, concentration of PCB 126 in the liver was 380 ng/g with increasing multifocal coagulative necrosis, decreased bone growth, decreased spleen weight with lymphocyte depletion of the spleen and bursa, and degenerative lesions of the thyroid. At 1000 ng/g, the liver concentration was 1098 ng/g, accompanied by decreased bursa weight, decreased hepatic thiol concentration and increased plasma enzyme activities (ALT, AST, and LDH-L) in addition to the previous effects. Highly significant positive correlations were noted between liver concentrations of PCB 126 and the ratio of oxidized to reduced glutathone. These findings indicate that nestling kestrels are more susceptible to PCB 126 toxicity than adults, but less sensitive than embryos, and that planar PCBs are of potential hazard to nestling birds.