From September to November 2000, United States Fish and Wildlife Service biologists investigated incidents involving 221 bird deaths at 3 mine sites located in New Mexico and Arizona. These bird deaths primarily involved passerine and waterfowl species and were assumed to be linked to consumption of acid metalliferous water (AMW). Because all of the carcasses were found in or near pregnant leach solution ponds, tailings ponds, and associated lakes or storm water retention basins, an acute-toxicity study was undertaken using a synthetic AMW (SAMW) formulation based on the contaminant profile of a representative pond believed to be responsible for avian mortalities. An acute oral-toxicity trial was performed with a mixed-sex group of mallards (Anas platyrhynchos). After a 24-h pretreatment food and water fast, gorge drinking was evident in both SAMW treatment and control groups, with water consumption rates greatest during the initial drinking periods. Seven of nine treated mallards were killed in extremis within 12 h after the initiation of dose. Total lethal doses of SAMW ranged from 69.8 to 270.1 mL/kg (mean ± SE 127.9 ± 27.1). Lethal doses of SAMW were consumed in as few as 20 to 40 min after first exposure. Clinical signs of SAMW toxicity included increased serum uric acid, aspartate aminotransferase, creatine kinase, potassium, and P levels. PCV values of SAMW-treated birds were also increased compared with control mallards. Histopathological lesions were observed in the esophagus, proventriculus, ventriculus, and duodenum of SAMW-treated mallards, with the most distinctive being erosion and ulceration of the kaolin of the ventriculus, ventricular hemorrhage and/or congestion, and duodenal hemorrhage. Clinical, pathological, and tissue-residue results from this study are consistent with literature documenting acute metal toxicosis, especially copper (Cu), in avian species and provide useful diagnostic profiles for AMW toxicity or mortality events. Blood and kidney Cu concentrations were 23- and 6-fold greater, respectively, in SAMW mortalities compared with controls, whereas Cu concentrations in liver were not nearly as increased, suggesting that blood and kidney concentrations may be more useful than liver concentrations for diagnosing Cu toxicosis in wild birds. Based on these findings and other reports of AMW toxicity events in wild birds, we conclude that AMW bodies pose a significant hazard to wildlife that come in contact with them.