Protocols for microbial source tracking of fecal contamination generally are able to identify when a source of contamination is present, but thus far have been unable to evaluate what portion of fecal-indicator bacteria (FIB) came from various sources. A mathematical approach to estimate relative amounts of FIB, such as Escherichia coli, from various sources based on the concentration and distribution of microbial source tracking markers in feces was developed. The approach was tested using dilute fecal suspensions, then applied as part of an analytical suite to a contaminated headwater stream in the Rocky Mountains (Upper Fountain Creek, Colorado). In one single-source fecal suspension, a source that was not present could not be excluded because of incomplete marker specificity; however, human and ruminant sources were detected whenever they were present. In the mixed-feces suspension (pet and human), the minority contributor (human) was detected at a concentration low enough to preclude human contamination as the dominant source of E. coli to the sample. Without the semi-quantitative approach described, simple detects of human-associated marker in stream samples would have provided inaccurate evidence that human contamination was a major source of E. coli to the stream. In samples from Upper Fountain Creek the pattern of E. coli, general and host-associated microbial source tracking markers, nutrients, and wastewater-associated chemical detections-augmented with local observations and land-use patterns-indicated that, contrary to expectations, birds rather than humans or ruminants were the predominant source of fecal contamination to Upper Fountain Creek. This new approach to E. coli allocation, validated by a controlled study and tested by application in a relatively simple setting, represents a widely applicable step forward in the field of microbial source tracking of fecal contamination. ?? 2011 Elsevier Ltd.