Methods to assess immunocompetence requiring only a single sample are useful in comparative studies where practical considerations prevent holding or recapturing individuals. The assay for natural antibody-mediated complement activation and red blood cell agglutination described here, requiring approximately 100 microl of blood, is highly repeatable. The effects of complement deactivation, 2-mercaptoethanol (2-ME), age, and lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-induced sickness response were examined to validate comparisons among diverse avian species. Complement deactivation by heating significantly reduces lysis and treatment with 2-ME reduces both lysis and agglutination. Lysis and agglutination both increase with age in chickens; LPS treatment does not influence these variables in 11-week-old chickens. In a comparison of 11 species, both lysis (0.0-5.3 titers) and agglutination (1.8-8.0 titers) vary significantly among species. Accordingly, this assay can be used to compare constitutive innate humoral immunity among species and with respect to age, sex, and experimental treatments within populations.