Great blue heron (Ardea herodias) eggs and prey items were collected from six colonies in Oregon and Washington, USA, during 1994 to 1995. Contaminant concentrations, reproductive success, and biomagnification factors were determined and effects of residue levels were measured by H4IIE rat hepatoma bioassays. Mean residue concentrations in heron eggs and prey items were generally low. However, elevated concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were detected in eggs and prey from Ross Island on the Willamette River. Biomagnification factors varied among sites. Sites were not significantly different in H4IIE tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin equivalents (TCDD-EQs), although the TCDD-EQ for Karlson Island was 9 to 20 times greater than that of any other site. Large differences existed between toxic equivalents calculated from egg residue concentrations and TCDD-EQs, which indicated nonadditive interactions among the compounds. Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin equivalents and nest failure were positively correlated with TCDD concentration. Fledging and reproductive rates were similar to those determined for healthy heron populations, however, indicating that any adverse effects were occurring at the individual level and not at the colony level. Our results support the use of great blue herons as a biomonitor for contamination in aquatic ecosystems. Their relatively low sensitivity to organochlorine contaminants and high trophic position allows contaminant accumulation and biomagnification without immediate adverse effects that are often seen in other, more sensitive species.