Insufficient nutrition during the perinatal period causes structural alterations in humans and experimental animals, leading to increased vulnerability to diseases in later life. Japanese quail, Coturnix japonica, in which partial (8–10%) egg white was withdrawn (EwW) from eggs before incubation had lower birth weights than controls (CTs). EwW birds also had reduced hatching rates, smaller glomeruli and lower embryo weight. In EwW embryos, the surface condensate area containing mesenchymal cells was larger, suggesting that delayed but active nephrogenesis takes place. In mature EwW quail, the number of glomeruli in the cortical region (mm2) was significantly lower (CT 34.7±1.4, EwW 21.0±1.2); capillary loops showed focal ballooning, and mesangial areas were distinctly expanded. Immunoreactive cell junction proteins, N-cadherin and podocin, and slit diaphragms were clearly seen. With aging, the mesangial area and glomerular size continued to increase and were significantly larger in EwW quail, suggesting compensatory hypertrophy. Furthermore, apoptosis measured by terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP-biotin nick-end labeling analysis was higher in EwWs than in CTs on embryonic day 15 and postnatal day 4 (D4). Similarly, plasma glucocorticoid (corticosterone) was higher (P<0.01) on D4 in EwW quail. These results suggest that although nephrogenic activity is high in low-nutrition quail during the perinatal period, delayed development and increased apoptosis may result in a lower number of mature nephrons. Damaged or incompletely mature mesangium may trigger glomerular injury, leading in later life to nephrosclerosis. The present study shows that birds serve as a model for ‘fetal programming,’ which appears to have evolved phylogenetically early.