The anatomical localization of glutamate receptor subtype-selective ligand binding sites was investigated in 1-day-old chick brain using quantitative autoradiography. Under the conditions used, the regional distributions of [3H]glutamate, [3H]AMPA (a selective quisqualate receptor ligand) and [3H]kainate binding sites are manifestly different. [3H]L-glutamate binding is densely localized in the telencephalon, particularly in the neostriatum (2.8 pmol/mg protein). In addition, [3H]L-glutamate labels the thalamus, the nucleus mesencephalicus lateralis pars dorsalis, the superficial layers of the optic tectum and the molecular layer of the cerebellum. [3H]AMPA binding sites are most densely localized in the hippocampus (0.90 pmol/mg protein), with an otherwise relatively uniform distribution of binding within the telencephalon. [3H]AMPA also labels the striatum griseum et fibrosum superficiale of the optic tectum and the molecular layer of the cerebellum. [3H]Kainate binding sites are extremely densely packed in the molecular layer of the cerebellum (10 pmol/mg protein). Other regions of [3H]kainate binding include the hyperstriatum and the thalamus. The binding of the NMDA receptor channel blocker [3H]MK-801 is increased in the presence of 1 mM L-glutamate. [3H]MK-801 binding is generally widespread in the telencephalon but is notably absent from the ectostriatum. No evidence of [3H]MK-801 binding sites was detected in the cerebellum, even in the presence of 1 mM L-glutamate. The relatively high densities and the well-defined localizations of the glutamate receptor subtype binding sites suggest that chick brain provides a useful system for the further study of excitatory amino acid receptors.