The generation of appropriate adaptive immune responses relies critically on dendritic cells, about which relatively little is known in chickens, a vital livestock species, in comparison with man and mouse. We cloned and sequenced chicken DEC205 cDNA and used this knowledge to produce quantitative PCR assays and monoclonal antibodies to study expression of DEC205 as well as CD83. The gene structure of DEC205 was identical to those of other species. Transcripts of both genes were found at higher levels in lymphoid tissues and the expression of DEC205 in normal birds had a characteristic distribution in the primary lymphoid organs. In spleen, DEC205 was seen on cells ideally located to trap antigen. In thymus it was found on cells thought to participate in the education of T cells, and in the bursa on cells that may be involved in presentation of antigen to B cells and regulation of B cell migration. The expression of DEC205 on cells other than antigen presenting cells (APC) is also described. Isolated splenocytes strongly expressing DEC205 but not the KUL01 antigen have morphology similar to mammalian dendritic cells and the distinct expression of DEC205 within the avian-specific Bursa of Fabricius alludes to a unique function in this organ of B cell diversification.