Enlargement of the forebrain, including elaboration of the thalamus, has occurred independently within different groups of vertebrates. Dorsal and ventral thalamic territories can be identified in most vertebrates, with variations in the presence of GABAergic neuronal components. An inhibitory thalamic reticular nucleus-like input to the dorsal thalamus might be a common feature, as might the organizational plan of two divisions of the dorsal thalamus, the lemnothalamus and collothalamus. Differential, independent elaboration of these divisions occurred in mammals and sauropsids (reptiles and birds), making their evolutionary relationships challenging to discern. Not all of the crucial features identified for mammalian thalamocortical circuitry are present in other vertebrates, but birds share the most features identified to date. These include specific and nonspecific thalamic relay neurons, reciprocal pallial projections, and a GABAergic thalamic reticular nucleus with some but not all hodological features. Because birds share many higher-level cognitive abilities and, thus, possibly higher-level consciousness, with mammals, comparison of the thalamocortical (thalamopallial) circuitry might prove a fruitful resource for testing functional hypotheses. Comparisons with selected other vertebrates that likewise have relatively large brain:body ratios and also exhibit some cognitively sophisticated behaviors, such as cichlid fish, might also prove valuable.