Water birds with diets high in animal foods in the San Francisco Bay area are exposed to trace elements that are potentially health impairing. Water birds with herbivorous diets have been less thoroughly examined. The concentrations of trace elements in the livers and the esophageal contents of an herbivorous water bird, the American coot (Fulica americana) were measured to compare levels of contaminant exposure among different locations in the Bay system and with other water birds. A total of 39 coots were collected from four sites: Napa River and Mare Island Strait in the north, Berkeley in the middle, and Coyote Creek in the south. Livers of Berkeley samples differed significantly from those of Napa River and Mare Island Strait by their greater concentrations of As and B and lower concentrations of Cu, but they seemed to be within normal ranges for birds. Otherwise the concentrations of trace elements in the livers did not differ among sites. Ingesta samples from Berkeley differed from the other sites because they tended to be higher in Al, V, and Zn. In contrast to waterfowl, livers from the herbivorous coots in San Francisco Bay showed little exposure to Cd, Hg, Pb, or Se. Coot ingesta showed few samples with measurable levels of Cd, Hg, or Se and had low levels of Pb. The herbivorous diet of coots may shield them from exposure to such elements. However, high levels of V were present in coot livers and ingesta from all four sites, suggesting adaptation to this toxic element. Copyright (C) 1998 Elsevier Science Ltd.