Chicken Development

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Chicken embryo (day 12)
The chicken (taxon -Gallus gallus) embryo develops and hatches in 20 to 21 days and has been extensively used in embryology studies. Historically, the chicken embryo was one of the first embryos studied, readily available and easy to incubate, embryo development can be directly observed by cutting a small window in the egg shell. A key to this model organism study was the establishment of a staging atlas by Hamburger & Hamilton in 1951 [1], which allowed specifc developmental landmarks to be seen and correlated with experimental manipulations of development. This much cited paper included images of all key stages and was more recently republished in the journal Developmental Dynamics (1993), for a new generation of avian researchers. Probably just as important has been the recent chicken genome sequencing, providing a resource to extend our knowledge of this excellent developmental model.

Fertilized eggs can be easily maintained in humidified incubators and during early stages of development the embryo floats on to of the egg yolk that it is using for nutrition. As the embryo grows it sinks into, or below the, yolk. The regular appearance of somites allowed early experimenters to acurately stage the embryo. The embryo was accessible and easy to manipulate (limb grafts/removal etc) that were informative about developmental processes. Chicken cells and tissues (neural ganglia/fragments) are also easy to grow in tissue culture. The discovery that quail cells have a different nuclear appearance meant that transplanted cells (chick/quail chimeras) could be tracked during development. For example, LeDourian's studies showed how neural crest cells migrate widely throughout the embryo.

This collapsible and sortable table compares the chicken incubation period with other bird species.
Avian Incubation Periods  
Bird Days
Budgerigar 18
Chicken 21
Duck 28
Finch 14
Goose 28
Guinea fowl 28
Muscovy duck 35
Parrot 26
Pheasant 24
Pigeon 18
Quail 16
Swan 35
Turkey 28

Chicken Links: Introduction | Chicken stages | Hamburger Hamilton Stages | Witschi Stages | Placodes | Category:Chicken
Historic Chicken Embryology  
1883 History of the Chick | 1900 Chicken Embryo Development Plates | 1904 X-Ray Effects | 1920 Chick Early Embryology | 1933 Neural | Movie 1961 | Historic Papers

Chicken Stages

Chicken stages - Hamburger & Hamilton staged the chicken embryo in 1951. The original paper had approx 25 citations between 1955 - 59, while in the year 1991 alone there were over 300 citations. Series of Embryonic Chicken Growth. J. Morphology, 88 49 - 92 (1951). Atlas recently republished by J.R. Sanes in Developmental Dynamics 195 229-275 (1993).

The Hamburger Hamilton Stages are most commonly used series for chicken staging. Note that there was also an earlier Witschi staging, and a 1900 staging series by Franz Keibel and Karl Abraham[2], and an earlier (1883) series by Foster, Balfour, Sedgwick, and Heape.[3]

Normal Plates of the Development of the Chicken Embryo (1900)

Links: Chicken Stages | Hamburger Hamilton | Witschi | 1900 | 1883 | PDF Poster- Hamburger Hamilton Stages | 2006 reproduction of the original paper

Some Recent Findings

  • FGF8 coordinates tissue elongation and cell epithelialization during early kidney tubulogenesis[4] "When a tubular structure forms during early embryogenesis, tubular elongation and lumen formation (epithelialization) proceed simultaneously in a spatiotemporally coordinated manner. We here demonstrate, using the Wolffian duct (WD) of early chicken embryos, that this coordination is regulated by the expression of FGF8, which shifts posteriorly during body axis elongation. FGF8 acts as a chemoattractant on the leader cells of the elongating WD and prevents them from epithelialization, whereas static ('rear') cells that receive progressively less FGF8 undergo epithelialization to form a lumen. Thus, FGF8 acts as a binary switch that distinguishes tubular elongation from lumen formation. The posteriorly shifting FGF8 is also known to regulate somite segmentation, suggesting that multiple types of tissue morphogenesis are coordinately regulated by macroscopic changes in body growth." Fibroblast Growth Factor
  • 4D fluorescent imaging of embryonic quail development[5] "Traditionally, our understanding of developmental biology has been based on the fixation and study of embryonic samples. Detailed microscopic scrutiny of static specimens at varying ages allowed for anatomical assessment of tissue development. The advent of confocal and two-photon excitation (2PE) microscopy enables researchers to acquire volumetric images in three dimensions (x, y, and z) plus time (t). Here, we present techniques for acquisition and analysis of three-dimensional (3D) time-lapse data. Both confocal microscopy and 2PE microscopy techniques are used. Data processing for tiled image stitching and time-lapse analysis is also discussed. The development of a transgenic Japanese quail system, as discussed here, has provided an embryonic model that is more easily accessible than mammalian models and more efficient to breed than the classic avian model, the chicken."
More recent papers  
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This table shows an automated computer PubMed search using the listed sub-heading term.

  • Therefore the list of references do not reflect any editorial selection of material based on content or relevance.
  • References appear in this list based upon the date of the actual page viewing.

References listed on the rest of the content page and the associated discussion page (listed under the publication year sub-headings) do include some editorial selection based upon both relevance and availability.

Links: References | Discussion Page | Pubmed Most Recent | Journal Searches

Search term: Chicken Embryology

Dávid Dóra, Nóra Fejszák, Allan M Goldstein, Krisztina Minkó, Nándor Nagy Ontogeny of ramified CD45 cells in chicken embryo and their contribution to bursal secretory dendritic cells. Cell Tissue Res.: 2017; PubMed 28353134

Lyad Zamir, Reena Singh, Elisha Nathan, Ralph Patrick, Oren Yifa, Yfat Yahalom-Ronen, Alaa A Arraf, Thomas M Schultheiss, Shengbao Suo, Jing-Dong Jackie Han, Guangdun Peng, Naihe Jing, Yuliang Wang, Nathan Palpant, Patrick Pl Tam, Richard P Harvey, Eldad Tzahor Nkx2.5 marks angioblasts that contribute to hemogenic endothelium of the endocardium and dorsal aorta. Elife: 2017, 6; PubMed 28271994

Qian Zhang, Yasir Waqas, Ping Yang, Xuejing Sun, Yi Liu, Nisar Ahmed, Bing Chen, Quanfu Li, Lisi Hu, Yufei Huang, Hong Chen, Bing Hu, Qiusheng Chen Cytological study on the regulation of lymphocyte homing in the chicken spleen during LPS stimulation. Oncotarget: 2017; PubMed 28061467

Dai Heng, Tao Zhang, Ye Tian, Shangyu Yu, Wenbo Liu, Kaili Xu, Juan Liu, Yu Ding, Baochang Zhu, Yanzhou Yang, Cheng Zhang Effects of dietary soybean isoflavones (SI) on reproduction in the young breeder rooster. Anim. Reprod. Sci.: 2016; PubMed 28041654

Sanghoon Lee, Joon Ho Moon, Kilyoung Song, Anukul Taweechaipaisankul, Young Kwang Jo, Hyun Ju Oh, Se Chang Park, Byeong Chun Lee Establishment of Transgenic Porcine Fibroblasts Expressing a Human klotho Gene and Its Effects on Gene Expression and Preimplantation Development of Cloned Embryos. DNA Cell Biol.: 2016; PubMed 28004977

Gallus gallus

Taxonomy Id: 9031

Preferred common name: chicken

Rank: species

Genetic code: Translation table 1 (Standard) Mitochondrial genetic code: Translation table 2

Other names: dwarf Leghorn chickens (includes), red jungle fowl (includes), chickens (common name), Gallus domestics (misnomer), Gallus galls domesticus (misnomer)

Lineage (abbreviated ): Eukaryota; Metazoa; Chordata; Craniata; Vertebrata; Archosauria; Aves; Neognathae; Galliformes; Phasianidae; Phasianinae; Gallus

Chicken Movies

Chicken movie 1961.jpg
 ‎‎Chicken (1961)
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Mesoderm migration movie 1 icon.jpg
 ‎‎Mesoderm Move
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Chicken Embryo Somite1-icon.jpg
 ‎‎Chicken Somite
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Chick Heart 001-icon.jpg
 ‎‎Normal Heart
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Chick Heart 002-icon.jpg
 ‎‎Abnormal Heart 1
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Chick Heart 002-icon.jpg
 ‎‎Abnormal Heart 2
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Neural crest migration Chicken Head (movies overview)
 ‎‎Neural Crest 1
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 ‎‎Neural Crest 2
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 ‎‎Neural Crest 3
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 ‎‎Neural Crest 4
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 ‎‎Neural Crest 5
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 ‎‎Neural Crest 6
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 ‎‎Neural Crest 7
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Links: Movies

Other Chicken Atlases

Vertebrate and Invertebrate Embryos (7th Edition) G.C. Schoenwolf, Prentice Hall, New Jersey

An Atlas of Embryology (1975) W.H. Freeman and B. Bracegirdle, Heinemann Educational Books, UK.

This is an ATLAS (no description of development) , basically reprinted from the original 1963 edition.

Photos with labelled diagrams covering Amphioxus (worm) Frog, Chicken.

An Atlas for Staging Mammalian and Chick Embryos (1987) H. Bultler and B.H. Juurlink, CRC Press Inc., Florida

This ATLAS is not a complete series of development but has interesting comparisons of species.

Mostly photos of embryos with a few drawn diagrams and a series of staging correlation graphs.

Bird Evolution

Birds and Dinosaurs? as quoted in a Curent Biology review "...abundant and ever increasing evidence places birds as one surviving lineage of the diverse clade Dinosauria"[6][7]

Chicken Genomics

The first draft of the chicken genome was publicly released in March, 2004. There are a number of sites that have begun looking into establishing chicken genomics partly due to its powerful history as a model of vertebrate development that is easy to observe, manipulate and is also cheap. (see also NIH Proposal for Chicken Genomics | NCBI Chicken Genome Resources)

A summary of chicken genome resources has recently been identified in a review in Developmental Dynamics by Antin PB and Konieczka JH.[8]

Chicken Sex Determination

In chicken development sex determination depends on a ZZ male/ZW female mechanism.

This differs from mammalian sex determination which is based upon testis expression of an Sry gene in somatic supporting Sertoli cells.

In the gonad, the coelomic epithelium contributes only to non-steroidogenic interstitial cells and nephrogenous mesenchyme contributes both Sertoli cells and steroidogenic cells.


Chicken primordial germ cell migration model.jpg

Primordial Germ Cell Migration Model[9]

HH12–13 - yolk sac circulation courses in loop (red arrows) to enter the embryo via the heart. The majority of PGCs (green dots) localized axially at the border between the area opaca and pellucida, where the sinus terminalis converged in the anterior vitelline veins. HH14–16 - PGCs (green dots) circulated effectively towards the embryo via the sinus terminalis and the anterior vitelline veins towards the heart. Then PGCs traffic via the aorta to the caudal part of the embryo and become lodged in the genital ridges.

Chicken Heart

Note these are Hamburger Hamilton Stages of chicken development, see also Heart 3D reconstruction.

Chicken Cardiac Stages

From review [10]</pubmed>

  • HH 8 (26–29 HOURS, 4–6 SOMITES)
  • HH 9 (29–33 hours, 7–9 somites) - Cardiac neural crest cells begin the process of EMT and emigrate from the neural tube.
  • HH 10–11 (33–45 hours, 10–15 somites) - Primary heart tube
  • HH 12-13- (45–49 hours, 16–19 somites) - dextral-looping phase of looping completed at stage 12.
  • HH 13+ (50–52 hours, 20–21 somites) - c-shaped heart loop transformed into the s-shaped heart loop. Cardiac neural crest has stopped producing cells.

Chicken Somitogenesis

Somitogenesis 01 icon.jpg
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Chicken Embryo Somite1-icon.jpg
 ‎‎Chicken Somite
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Gene expression Somite timing


Chick somitogenesis oscillator[11]

Chicken body elongation model.jpg

Chicken body elongation model[12]

Chicken Limb

Limb hairy2 expression model.jpg

Limb Hairy2 Expression Model[13]

Hairy2 is a "molecular oscillator" involved in both somite and limb development.

Chicken limb gene expression 03.jpg

Chicken stage 21 to 27 wing bud Tbx2 and Tbx3 expression[14]


The following gene expression data is from a study of different head regions during development.[15]

  • Frontonasal Prominence - CASH1/ASCL1, POSTN, OGN, CYP26A1, NR2E1, and SCARA5.
    • Olfactory epithelium SP8, EYA2, and SIX3
  • Maxillary/Trigeminal Ganglion - SOX10, TAGLN3.
  • Mandibular - DLX1, HAND2 (highest), LHX8, MSX2, PITX2, and TWIST2.
    • Mandibular/maxillary prominences differentially expressed - BETA3, HAND2, and MSX2.

Historic Studies

The Elements of Embryology - Volume 1 by Foster, M., Balfour, F. M., Sedgwick, A., & Heape, W. (1883)

The History of the Chick: Egg structure and incubation beginning | Summary whole incubation | First day | Second day - first half | Second day - second half | Third day | Fourth day | Fifth day | Sixth day to incubation end

Elements of Embryology - Volume 1 - Figures


  1. V Hamburger, H L Hamilton A series of normal stages in the development of the chick embryo. 1951. Dev. Dyn.: 1992, 195(4);231-72 PubMed 1304821
  2. Keibel F. and Abraham K. Normal plates of the development of vertebrates (Normentafeln zur Entwicklungsgeschichte der Wirbelthiere) Vol. 2. Normal Plates of the Development of the Chicken Embryo. (2. Heft Normentafeln zur Entwicklungsgeschichte Gallus domesticus) (1900) Fisher, Jena., Germany.
  3. Foster M. Balfour FM. Sedgwick A. and Heape W. The Elements of Embryology (1883) Vol. 1. (2nd ed.). London: Macmillan and Co.
  4. Yuji Atsuta, Yoshiko Takahashi FGF8 coordinates tissue elongation and cell epithelialization during early kidney tubulogenesis. Development: 2015, 142(13);2329-37 PubMed 26130757
  5. Christie A Canaria, Rusty Lansford 4D fluorescent imaging of embryonic quail development. Cold Spring Harb Protoc: 2011, 2011(11);1291-4 PubMed 22046043
  6. Julia Clarke, Kevin Middleton Bird evolution. Curr. Biol.: 2006, 16(10);R350-4 PubMed 16713939
  7. Bent E K Lindow, Gareth J Dyke Bird evolution in the Eocene: climate change in Europe and a Danish fossil fauna. Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc: 2006, 81(4);483-99 PubMed 16893476
  8. Parker B Antin, Jay H Konieczka Genomic resources for chicken. Dev. Dyn.: 2005, 232(4);877-82 PubMed 15739221 | Developmental Dynamics
  9. Ana De Melo Bernardo, Kaylee Sprenkels, Gabriela Rodrigues, Toshiaki Noce, Susana M Chuva De Sousa Lopes Chicken primordial germ cells use the anterior vitelline veins to enter the embryonic circulation. Biol Open: 2012, 1(11);1146-52 PubMed 23213395 | PMC3507194 | Biol Open
  10. Isabel Olivera-Martinez, Hidekiyo Harada, Pamela A Halley, Kate G Storey Loss of FGF-dependent mesoderm identity and rise of endogenous retinoid signalling determine cessation of body axis elongation. PLoS Biol.: 2012, 10(10);e1001415 PubMed 23118616 | PLoS Biol.
  11. Caroline J Sheeba, Raquel P Andrade, Isabel Palmeirim Joint interpretation of AER/FGF and ZPA/SHH over time and space underlies hairy2 expression in the chick limb. Biol Open: 2012, 1(11);1102-10 PubMed 23213390 | PMC3507187 | Biol Open
  12. Malcolm Fisher, Helen Downie, Monique C M Welten, Irene Delgado, Andrew Bain, Thorsten Planzer, Adrian Sherman, Helen Sang, Cheryll Tickle Comparative analysis of 3D expression patterns of transcription factor genes and digit fate maps in the developing chick wing. PLoS ONE: 2011, 6(4);e18661 PubMed 21526123 | PLoS One.
  13. Marcela Buchtová, Winston Patrick Kuo, Suresh Nimmagadda, Shari L Benson, Poongodi Geetha-Loganathan, Cairine Logan, Timothy Au-Yeung, Eric Chiang, Katherine Fu, Joy M Richman Whole genome microarray analysis of chicken embryo facial prominences. Dev. Dyn.: 2010, 239(2);574-91 PubMed 19941351

Search Pubmed

Search Pubmed: chicken development

Additional Images

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Historic Embryology  
1897 Pig | 1900 Chicken | 1901 Lungfish | 1904 Sand Lizard | 1905 Rabbit | 1906 Deer | 1907 Tarsiers | 1908 Human | 1909 Northern Lapwing | 1909 South American and African Lungfish | 1910 Salamander | 1951 Frog | Embryology History | Historic Disclaimer

External Links

External Links Notice - The dynamic nature of the internet may mean that some of these listed links may no longer function. If the link no longer works search the web with the link text or name. Links to any external commercial sites are provided for information purposes only and should never be considered an endorsement. UNSW Embryology is provided as an educational resource with no clinical information or commercial affiliation.

  • Developmental Dynamics - Chicken Special Issue (2004) | Poster- Hamburger Hamilton Stages | Republished Hamburger Hamilton Stages Paper
  • Developmental Biology - Quail-Chick Chimeras
  • Nicole Le Douarin pioneered the use of quail-chick chimeras to study the developmental fate of cells in the bird embryo. The videotape Nicole Le Douarin gave us permission to digitize is titled, "Quail-Chick Chimeras in Development of the Nervous System and Immune System" and it was made in 1987. These digital video sequences and still images come from the first part of her videotape. These chimeras were a key to our understanding cell migration (eg neural crest) in the embryo.
    • Quicktime movie sequence 1 (477k) showing newly hatched quail-chick chimeras; white feathers are chick and dark, pigmented feathers are quail.
    • Quicktime movie sequence 2 (1.3 MB) Sequence showing the preparation of the chick host; removing a portion of host's neural tube and neural crest.
    • Quicktime movie sequence 3 (1.4 MB) Sequence showing the removal and "cleaning off" of donor quail neural tube and neural crest.
    • Quicktime movie sequence 4 (1.5 MB) Sequence showing transplantation and grafting of donor quail neural tube and neural crest into the chick host; at the end of this sequence, you see the host chick embryo 5 hours later with its healed in graft.
  • Developmental Biology- Laurie Iten's Serially Sectioned Frog and Chick Embryos

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Cite this page: Hill, M.A. 2017 Embryology Chicken Development. Retrieved March 30, 2017, from

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© Dr Mark Hill 2017, UNSW Embryology ISBN: 978 0 7334 2609 4 - UNSW CRICOS Provider Code No. 00098G