The formation and wiring of the vertebrate nervous system involves the spatially and temporally ordered production of diverse neuronal and glial subtypes that are molecularly and functionally distinct. The chick embryo has been the experimental model of choice for many of the studies that have led to our current understanding of this process, and has presaged and informed a wide range of complementary genetic studies, in particular in the mouse. The versatility and tractability of chick embryos means that it remains an important model system for many investigators in the field. Here we will focus on the role of Sonic hedgehog (Shh) signaling in coordinating the diversification, patterning, growth and differentiation of the vertebrate nervous system. We highlight how studies in chick led to the identification of the role Shh plays in the developing neural tube and how subsequent work, including studies in the chick and the mouse revealed details of the cell intrinsic programs controlling cell fate determination. We compare these mechanisms at different rostral-caudal positions along the neuraxis and discuss the particular experimental attributes of the chick that facilitated this work.