The precise identification of the digits of the avian wing is of importance in evolutionary studies. If the digits are numbered two, three and four, this has been taken to suggest that birds are not descended directly from dinosaurs. If the digits are numbered one, two and three, dinosaur origins become more plausible. Studies of the development of the avian wing have failed to resolve this dilemma. However, in some instances, it is possible to deduce information about evolutionary morphologies by manipulating development experimentally. We grafted beads loaded with fibroblast growth factor 4 into the distal tip of chick wing buds at times when the apical ectodermal ridge is regressing. The consequence was that the cartilage structure conventionally labelled ‘element 5’ increased dramatically in size and acquired a digit-like morphology in some instances. Corresponding changes in soft tissue morphology were also observed. We conclude that it may be possible to resolve the issue of avian digit homology by the induction of experimental atavisms of this kind.