We review the advantages and disadvantages of experimental and field studies for determining effects of pesticides on birds. Important problems or principles initially discovered in the field include effects of DDT (through its metabolite DDE) on eggshell thickness, reproductive success, and population stability; trophic-level bioaccumulation of the lipid-soluble organochlorine pesticides; indirect effects on productivity and survival through reductions in the food supply and cover by herbicides and insecticides; unexpected toxic effects and routes of exposure of organophosphorus compounds such as famphur and dimethoate; effects related to simultaneous application at full strength of several pesticides of different classes; and others. Also, potentially serious bird problems with dicofol, based on laboratory studies, later proved negligible in the field. In refining field tests of pesticides, the selection of a species or group of species to study is important, because exposure routes may vary greatly, and 10-fold interspecific differences in sensitivity to pesticides are relatively common. Although there are limitations with field investigations, particularly uncontrollable variables that must be addressed, the value of a well-designed field study far outweighs its shortcomings.