The vertebrate intermediate mesoderm (IM) is highly patterned along the anterior–posterior (A-P) axis. In the chick embryo, the kidney tissue, which is a derivative of the IM, is generated only from IM located posterior to the sixth somite axial level, which also marks the border between cranial and trunk segments. The cellular and molecular mechanisms that govern the formation of the anterior border of the kidney morphogenetic field are currently unknown. In this study, we asked whether specific A-P patterning information is conveyed by the movement of cells through the primitive streak (PS) at different time points that consequently affects the expression of kidney genes, or by the environment that these cells encounter during their migration to the IM. In this study, we show that kidney-inductive signals are present along the whole axis, including anterior non–kidney-generating regions. These inductive signals are generated by tissues that are located medial to the anterior IM. We also demonstrate that cells that migrate through the PS of early embryonic stages (Hamburger and Hamilton stage 3–4 and earlier), which will give rise to anterior nonkidney IM, are competent to respond to these inductive factors. This prospective anterior IM tissue loses its competence to respond to kidney inducing signals during its migration from the PS to its final location in the anterior IM. We present here a model in which changes in cell competence determine the formation of the anterior border of kidney gene expression and discuss the possible evolutionary implications of this developmental mechanism. Developmental Dynamics 232:901–914, 2005. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.