To study the adaptative capabilities of the retinotectal system in birds, the primordium of one optic tectum from 12-somite embryos of Japanese quail was transplanted either homotopically , to replace the ablated same primordium, or heterotopically, to replace the ablated dorsal diencephalon in White Leghorn chick embryos of the same stage. The quail nucleolar marker was used to recognize the transplants. The cytoarchitecture of the tecta and the retinal projections from the eye contralateral to the graft were studied on the 17th or 18th day of incubation in the chimeric embryos by autoradiographic or horseradish peroxidase tracing methods. Morphometric analysis was applied to evaluate the percentage of the tectal surface receiving optic projections. It was observed that: (i) quail mesencephalic alar plate can develop a fully laminated optic tectum even when transplanted heterotopically; (ii) retinal ganglion cells from the chick not only recognize the tectal neurons of the quail as their specific targets in homotopic grafts, but the optic fibers deviate to innervate the heterotopically grafted tectum; (iii) in the presence of a graft, the chick retina is unable to innervate a tectal surface of similar or larger size than that of the control tectum; (iv) tectal regions devoid of optic projections, whether formed by donor or by host cells, always present an atrophic lamination; (v) the diencephalic supernumerary optic tectum competes with and prevails over the host tectum as a target for optic fiber terminals.