The effects of changing retinal ganglion cell (RGC) density and availability of presynaptic sites on the development of RGC dendritic arbor in the developing chick retina were contrasted. Visual form deprivation was used to induce ocular enlargement and expanded retinal area resulting in a 20-30% decrease in RGC density. In these retinas, RGC dendritic arbors increased in a compensatory manner to maintain the inner nuclear layer to RGC convergence ratio in a way that is consistent with simple stretching; RGC dendritic arbors become larger with increased branch lengths, but without change in the total number of branches. In the second manipulation, partial optic nerve section was used to produce areas of RGC depletion of approximately 60% in the central retina. This reduction in density is comparable to the density of locations in the normal peripheral retina. In RGC depleted retinas, dendritic arbor areas of RGCs in the central retina grow to match the size of normal peripheral arbors. In contrast to the expanded case, two measures of intrinsic arbor structure are changed in RGC-depleted retinas; the branch density of RGC dendrites is greater, and the relative areas of the two arbors of bistratified cells are altered. We discuss the potential roles of retinal growth, local RGC density, and availability of presynaptic terminals in the developmental control of RGC dendritic arbor.