The chicken is an excellent model organism for studying vertebrate limb development, mainly because of the ease of manipulating the developing limb in vivo. Classical chicken embryology has provided fate maps and elucidated the cell-cell interactions that specify limb pattern. The first defined chemical that can mimic one of these interactions was discovered by experiments on developing chick limbs and, over the last 15 years or so, the role of an increasing number of developmentally important genes has been uncovered. The principles that underlie limb development in chickens are applicable to other vertebrates and there are growing links with clinical genetics. The sequence of the chicken genome, together with other recently assembled chicken genomic resources, will present new opportunities for exploiting the ease of manipulating the limb.