Calcium-activated potassium channels (maxi K+ channels) isolated from avian nasal salt gland cells were reconstituted into lipid bilayers and characterized. The 266 pS channel is blocked discretely by charybdotoxin from the external solution at nanomolar concentrations and by Ba2+ from the cytosolic side at micromolar concentrations. Fast tetraethylammonium (TEA) block is seen as apparent reductions in amplitude of the unitary currents. From the extent of the reductions, TEA binding affinity was calculated to be 0.16 mM from the external solution and 37 mm from internal solution. The overall channel properties conform to those of maxi K+ channels in other epithelial tissues. The calcium sensitivity of the channel was found to be variable from channel to channel, extending over a wide range of concentrations from 1 to 1,000 microM. Examination of the pooled calcium titration curves, revealed that these curves are grouped into five clusters, and the probability distribution of the clusters matches a binomial distribution. The Hill coefficient derived from the titration curves varies from 1 to 5 and is linearly correlated to calcium binding with a slope of 1 per 10-fold change in Kd. Clustered titration curves with such a characteristic suggest that the gating components and the calcium binding sites of the maxi K+ channels in the avian nasal gland are hetero-tetrameric and may result from random mixing of two distinct subunits possessing high and low calcium sensitivities, respectively.