The vertebrate limb is a dynamic structure which has evolved into many diverse forms to facilitate complex behavioral adaptations. The principle molecular and cellular processes that underlie development of the vertebrate limb are well characterized. However, how these processes are altered to drive differential limb development between vertebrates is less well understood. Several vertebrate models are being utilized to determine the developmental basis of differential limb morphogenesis, though these typically focus on later patterning of the established limb bud and may not represent the complete developmental trajectory. Particularly, heterochronic limb development can occur prior to limb outgrowth and patterning but receives little attention. This review summarizes the genetic regulation of vertebrate forelimb diversity, with particular focus on wing reduction in the flightless emu as a model for examining limb heterochrony. These studies highlight that wing reduction is complex, with heterochronic cellular and genetic events influencing the major stages of limb development. Together, these studies provide a broader picture of how different limb morphologies may be established during development.