Bioindicators of oxidative stress were examined in prebreeding and breeding adult and chick Forster's terns (Sterna forsteri) and in prebreeding adult Caspian terns (Hydroprogne caspia) in San Francisco Bay, California. Highest total mercury (THg) concentrations (mean±standard error;μg/g dry wt) in liver (17.7±1.7), kidney (20.5±1.9), and brain (3.0±0.3) occurred in breeding adult Forster's terns. The THg concentrations in liver were significantly correlated with hepatic depletion of reduced glutathione (GSH), increased oxidized glutathione (GSSG):GSH ratio, and decreased hepatic gamma-glutamyl transferase (GGT) activity in adults of both tern species. Prefledging Forster's tern chicks with one-fourth the hepatic THg concentration of breeding adults exhibited effects similar to adults. Total mercury-related renal GSSG increased in adults and chicks. In brains of prebreeding adults, THg was correlated with a small increase in glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G-6-PDH) activity, suggestive of a compensatory response. Brain THg concentrations were highest in breeding adult Forster's terns and brain tissue exhibited increased lipid peroxidation as thiobarbituric acid-reactive substances, loss of protein bound thiols (PBSH), and decreased activity of antioxidant enzymes, GSSG reductase (GSSGrd), and G-6-PDH. In brains of Forster's tern chicks there was a decrease in total reduced thiols and PBSH. Multiple indicator responses also pointed to greater oxidative stress in breeding Forster's terns relative to prebreeding terns, attributable to the physiological stress of reproduction. Some biondicators also were related to age and species, including thiol concentrations. Enzymes GGT, G-6-PDH, and GSSGred activities were related to species. Our results indicate that THg concentrations induced oxidative stress in terns, and suggest that histopathological, immunological, and behavioral effects may occur in terns as reported in other species.