Over a 2 1/2-year period (January 1981 to June 1983), 177 Escherichia coli isolates were obtained from 145 field-reared broiler flocks in the Delmarva peninsula, and 20 were obtained from clinically normal day-old hatchery chickens representing an additional 17 flocks in Delmarva. Ninety-one isolates obtained from the field-reared birds between 2 and 8 weeks of age were associated with complicated air-sac disease. Serotyping efforts demonstrated a predominance of O2, O35, and O78 serogroups and a large number of untypable isolates. More than 50% of the isolates in each of the three dominant serogroups were collected from broilers with colibacillosis, but they were never detected in the yolk-sac samples of clinically normal day-old hatchery chickens. In vitro biochemical characterization of the E. coli isolates revealed variable rates of carbohydrate fermentation and amino acid decarboxylation. No common characteristics appeared to be shared by the predominant serogroups isolated from clinically affected birds, although several serogroup-specific reactions were noted. The majority of the isolates were sensitive to chloramphenicol, gentamicin, nalidixic acid, ormethoprim-sulfadimethoxine, spectinomycin, neomycin, and ampicillin. About half of the isolates were sensitive to nitrofurantoin and the sulfa compounds. Less than 25% of the isolates were sensitive to streptomycin, erythromycin, tetracyclines, novobiocin, penicillin, bacitracin, and lincomycin.