Tissue-resident macrophages are a heterogeneous population of immune cells that fulfill tissue-specific and niche-specific functions. These range from dedicated homeostatic functions, such as clearance of cellular debris and iron processing, to central roles in tissue immune surveillance, response to infection and the resolution of inflammation. Recent studies highlight marked heterogeneity in the origins of tissue macrophages that arise from hematopoietic versus self-renewing embryo-derived populations. We discuss the tissue niche-specific factors that dictate cell phenotype, the definition of which will allow new strategies to promote the restoration of tissue homeostasis. Understanding the mechanisms that dictate tissue macrophage heterogeneity should explain why simplified models of macrophage activation do not explain the extent of heterogeneity seen in vivo.