The GATA family of vertebrate DNA binding regulatory proteins are expressed in diverse tissues and at different times of development. However, the DNA binding regions of these proteins possess considerable homology and recognize a rather similar range of DNA sequence motifs. DNA binding is mediated through two domains, each containing a zinc finger. Previous results have led to the conclusion that although in some cases the N-terminal finger can contribute to specificity and strength of binding, it does not bind independently, whereas the C-terminal finger is both necessary and sufficient for binding. Here we show that although this is true for the N-terminal finger of GATA-1, those of GATA-2 and GATA-3 are capable of strong independent binding with a preference for the motif GATC. Binding requires the presence of two basic regions located on either side of the N-terminal finger. The absence of one of these near the GATA-1 N-terminal finger probably accounts for its inability to bind. The combination of a single finger and two basic regions is a new variant of a motif that has been previously found in the binding domains of other finger proteins. Our results suggest that the DNA binding properties of the N-terminal finger may help distinguish GATA-2 and GATA-3 from GATA-1 and the other GATA family members in their selective regulatory roles in vivo.