In some eukaryotes, germline and somatic genomes differ dramatically in their composition. Here we characterise a major germline–soma dissimilarity caused by a germline-restricted chromosome (GRC) in songbirds. We show that the zebra finch GRC contains >115 genes paralogous to single-copy genes on 18 autosomes and the Z chromosome, and is enriched in genes involved in female gonad development. Many genes are likely functional, evidenced by expression in testes and ovaries at the RNA and protein level. Using comparative genomics, we show that genes have been added to the GRC over millions of years of evolution, with embryonic development genes bicc1 and trim71 dating to the ancestor of songbirds and dozens of other genes added very recently. The somatic elimination of this evolutionarily dynamic chromosome in songbirds implies a unique mechanism to minimise genetic conflict between germline and soma, relevant to antagonistic pleiotropy, an evolutionary process underlying ageing and sexual traits.