Embryonic survival, pipping and hatching success, and sublethal biochemical, endocrine, and histological endpoints were examined in hatchling chickens (Gallus gallus), mallards (Anas platyrhynchos), and American kestrels (Falco sparverius) following air cell administration of a pentabrominated diphenyl ether (penta-BDE; DE-71) mixture (0.01-20 mu g/g egg) or polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) congener 126 (3,3', 4,4', 5-pentachlorobiphenyl; 0.002 mu g/g egg). The penta-BDE decreased pipping and hatching success at concentrations of 10 and 20 mu g/g egg in kestrels but had no effect on survival endpoints in chickens or mallards. Sublethal effects in hatchling chickens included ethoxyresorufin-O-dealkylase (EROD) induction and histological changes in the bursa, but these responses were not observed in other species. Polychlorinated biphenyl congener 126 (positive control) reduced survival endpoints in chicken and kestrel embryos and caused sublethal effects (EROD induction, reduced bursal mass and follicle size) in chickens. Mallards were clearly less sensitive than the other species to administered penta-BDE and PCB 126. In a second experiment, the absorption of penta-BDE (11.1 mu g/g egg, air cell administered during early development) into the contents of chicken and kestrel eggs was determined at various intervals (24 h postinjection, midincubation, and pipping). By pipping, 29% of the penta-BDE administered dose was present in the egg contents in chickens, and 18% of the administered dose was present in kestrel egg contents. Based on uptake in kestrels, the lowest-observed-effect level on pipping and hatching success may be as low as 1.8 mu g total penta-BDE/g egg, which approaches concentrations detected in eggs of free-ranging birds. Because some penta-BDE congeners are still increasing in the environment, the toxic effects observed in the present study are cause for concern in wildlife.