The bursa of Fabricius is critical for the normal development of B lymphocytes in birds. It is productively colonized during embryonic life by a limited number of B cell precursors that have undergone the immunoglobulin gene rearrangements required for expression of cell surface immunoglobulin. Immunoglobulin gene rearrangement occurs in the absence of terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase and generates minimal antibody diversity. In addition, observations that immunoglobulin heavy and light chain variable gene rearrangement occur at the same time and that allelic exclusion of immunoglobulin expression is regulated at the level of variable region gene rearrangement provide a striking contrast to rodent and primate models of immunoglobulin gene assembly. Following productive colonization of the bursa, developing B cells undergo rapid proliferation and the immunoglobulin V region genes that generate the specificity of the B cell surface immunoglobulin receptor undergo diversification. Immunoglobulin diversity in birds is generated by somatic gene conversion events in which sequences derived from upstream families of pseudogenes replace homologous sequences in unique and functionally rearranged immunoglobulin heavy and light chain variable region genes. This mechanism is distinct from and much more efficient than mechanisms of antibody diversification seen in rodents and primates. While the bursal microenvironment is not required for immunoglobulin gene rearrangement and expression, it is essential for the generation of antibody diversity by gene conversion. Following hatch, gut derived antigens are taken up by the bursa. While bursal development prior to hatch occurs in the absence of exogenous antigen, chicken B cell development after hatch may therefore be influenced by the presence of environmental antigen. This review focuses on the differences between B cell development in the chicken as compared to rodent and primate models.