Summary Powered flight was fundamental to the establishment and radiation of birds. However, flight has been lost multiple times throughout avian evolution. Convergent losses of flight within the ratites (flightless paleognaths, including the emu and ostrich) often coincide with reduced wings. Although there is a wealth of anatomical knowledge for several ratites, the genetic mechanisms causing these changes remain debated. Here, we use a multidisciplinary approach employing embryological, genetic, and genomic techniques to interrogate the mechanisms underlying forelimb heterochrony in emu embryos. We show that the initiation of limb formation, an epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) in the lateral plate mesoderm (LPM) and myoblast migration into the LPM, occur at equivalent stages in the emu and chick. However, the emu forelimb fails to subsequently proliferate. The unique emu forelimb expression of Nkx2.5, previously associated with diminished wing development, initiates after this stage (concomitant with myoblast migration into the LPM) and is therefore unlikely to cause this developmental delay. In contrast, RNA sequencing of limb tissue reveals significantly lower Fgf10 expression in the emu forelimb. Artificially increasing Fgf10 expression in the emu LPM induces ectodermal Fgf8 expression and a limb bud. Analyzing open chromatin reveals differentially active regulatory elements near Fgf10 and Sall-1 in the emu wing, and the Sall-1 enhancer activity is dependent on a likely Fgf-mediated Ets transcription factor-binding site. Taken together, our results suggest that regulatory changes result in lower expression of Fgf10 and a concomitant failure to express genes required for limb proliferation in the early emu wing bud.