How different neural crest derivatives differentiate in distinct embryonic locations in the vertebrate embryo is an intriguing issue. Many attempts have been made to understand the underlying mechanism of specific pathway choices made by migrating neural crest cells. In this speculative review we suggest a new mechanism for the regulation of neural crest cell migration patterns in avian and mammalian embryos, based on recent progress in understanding the expression and activity of receptor tyrosine kinases during embryogenesis. Distinct subpopulations of crest-derived cells express specific receptor tyrosine kinases while residing in a migration staging area. We postulate that the differential expression of receptor tyrosine kinases by specific subpopulations of neural crest cells allows them to respond to localized growth factor ligand activity in the embryo. Thus, the migration pathway taken by neural crest subpopulations is determined by their receptor tyrosine kinase response to the differential localization of their cognate ligand.