Despite a large body of research concerning mercury (Hg) in birds, no single tissue has been used consistently to assess Hg exposure, and this has hampered comparisons across studies. We evaluated the relationships of Hg concentrations among tissues in four species of waterbirds (American avocets [Recurvirostra americana], black-necked stilts [Himantopus mexicanus], Caspian terns [Hydroprogne caspia; formerly Sterna caspia], and Forster's terns [Sterna forsteri]) and across three life stages (prebreeding adults, breeding adults, and chicks) in San Francisco Bay, California, USA. Across species and life stages, Hg concentrations (least square mean ?? standard error) were highest in head feathers (6.45 ?? 0.31 ??g/g dry wt) and breast feathers (5.76 ?? 0.28 ??g/g dry wt), followed by kidney (4.54 ?? 0.22 ??g/g dry wt), liver (4.43 ?? 0.21 ??g/g dry wt), blood (3.10 ?? 0.15 ??g/g dry wt), and muscle (1.67 ?? 0.08 ??g/g dry wt). Relative Hg distribution among tissues, however, differed by species and life stage. Mercury concentrations were highly correlated among internal tissues (r 2 ??? 0.89). Conversely, the relationships between Hg in feathers and internal tissues were substantially weaker (r2 ??? 0.42). Regression slopes sometimes differed among species and life stages, indicating that care must be used when predicting Hg concentrations in one tissue based on those in another. However, we found good agreement between predictions made using a general tissue-prediction equation and more specific equations developed for each species and life stage. Finally, our results suggest that blood is an excellent, nonlethal predictor of Hg concentrations in internal tissues but that feathers are relatively poor indicators of Hg concentrations in internal tissues. ?? 2008 SETAC Printed in the USA.