An unresolved issue in cortical development concerns the relative contributions of intrinsic and extrinsic factors to the functional specification of different cortical areas. Ferrets in which retinal projections are redirected neonatally to the auditory thalamus have visually responsive cells in auditory thalamus and cortex, form a retinotopic map in auditory cortex and have visual receptive field properties in auditory cortex that are typical of cells in visual cortex. Here we report that this cross-modal projection and its representation in auditory cortex can mediate visual behaviour. When light stimuli are presented in the portion of the visual field that is 'seen' only by this projection, 'rewired' ferrets respond as though they perceive the stimuli to be visual rather than auditory. Thus the perceptual modality of a neocortical region is instructed to a significant extent by its extrinsic inputs. In addition, gratings of different spatial frequencies can be discriminated by the rewired pathway, although the grating acuity is lower than that of the normal visual pathway.