Fipronil is a phenyl pyrazole insecticide registered for agricultural use in many countries. Avian exposure to fipronil occurs mainly by ingesting contaminated insects or seeds. There is little information regarding the toxicological effects of fipronil in avian species and even less research documenting avian behavioural responses to fipronil ingestion. We examined the effects of a single oral dose of fipronil in northern bobwhite quail, the most fipronil-sensitive species tested to date, in respect to signs of intoxication and the metabolic fate of fipronil. Fipronil-treated birds did not eat or drink following pesticide administration, and as a result lost a significant amount of body mass. Treated birds also appeared withdrawn and did not respond to disturbance within the first hour after treatment. Identifiable signs of fipronil toxicity were not observed until at least 2. d after treatment. Chemical analyses indicated a difference between fipronil and fipronil-sulfone residue distribution and bioaccumulation, with significantly higher (30- to 1000-fold) tissue concentrations of the sulfone detected at all time points from 8 to 96. h post-dose in brain, liver and adipose tissues. Tissue sulfone concentrations increased significantly in fipronil-treated birds, peaking at 72. h post-dose. Body mass decreased at all time points in dosed birds. The coincidence of the particular intoxication symptoms with the time course of rise in brain sulfone levels after fipronil dosing gives insight into possible mechanisms of toxicity in this highly sensitive species. © 2010 Elsevier Ltd.