Birds deposit the trace element selenium (Se) into their eggs because an adequate supply of this micronutrient is essential for embryonic development. Although there is considerable interest in egg Se with regard to topics as diverse as poultry nutrition and environmental pollution, data on the natural levels of Se in eggs of free-living avian species are currently very limited. To address this lack of information, we measured the yolk Se concentrations in eggs of 14 avian species collected in the wild. The concentrations (ng/g wet yolk) varied from 394 to 2238, with a mean value of 1040. Values (means +/- SD) for eggs from the UK, Canada and New Zealand were, respectively, 522 +/- 192 (3 species), 1194 +/- 584 (8 species) and 1147 +/- 200 (3 species). However, analysis by appropriate statistical models indicates that the effect of phylogenetic relatedeness among these species is so significant that it removes any effect of geographical location. In particular, species belonging to the order Passeriformes displayed significantly higher yolk Se levels than Non-Passeriforme species. In marked contrast to the free-living species, our previously published data indicate that the Se concentration in egg yolk of the domestic chicken is only about 100 ng/g wet yolk when the birds are maintained on a basal commercial diet without supplementary Se. The results reveal an extensive interspecies variation in yolk Se (across a 6-fold range) for eggs collected from the wild. Nevertheless, the Se concentrations in the yolks of all the free-living species were far higher (4-21-fold) than that achieved in the yolk of the domestic chicken consuming a standard basal diet. (c) 2006 Elsevier GrnbH. All rights reserved.