The erythroid-specific transcription factor Eryf1 binds to DNA sites within regulatory regions of every member of both the alpha- and beta-globin families in chicken. The distribution of these sites suggests that Eryf1 may serve as a general "switch" factor for erythroid development. We have cloned the cDNA for Eryf1 and show that the corresponding mRNA is present in all erythroid lineages, but is absent from non-erythroid cells. We demonstrate that the cDNA encodes the specific Eryf1 binding activity found in erythrocytes. Eryf1 is a basic 38 kd protein containing a pair of highly similar "fingers" with the motif Cys-x-x-Cys-x17-Cys-x-x-Cys. The amino acid sequences of these regions bear no resemblance to those found in other regulatory proteins with a similar arrangement of cysteine residues. Our evidence suggests, furthermore, that transition metal ions are unusually tightly bound, or may not be necessary for the sequence-specific DNA binding of Eryf1.