Reassortment among the RNA segments of Influenza A virus caused the two most recent human influenza pandemics; recently, reassortment has generated viral genotypes associated with outbreaks of avian H5N1 influenza in Asia and Europe. A statistical analysis has been developed for the systematic identification and characterization of reassortant viruses. The analysis was applied to the genes of the replication complex of 152 avian influenza A viruses isolated between 1966 and 2004 from predominantly terrestrial and domestic aquatic avian species. The results indicated that reassortment among these genes was pervasive throughout this period and throughout both the Eurasian and North American lineages of the virus. Evidence is presented that the circulating genotypes of the replication complex are being replaced continually by novel genotypes created by reassortment. No constraints for coordinated reassortment among genes of the replication complex were evident; rather, reassortment almost always proceeded one segment at a time. A maximum-likelihood estimate of the rate of reassortment was derived. For significantly diverged Asian avian influenza A viruses from the period 1991-2004, it was estimated that the median duration between creation of a new genotype and its next segment reassortment was 3 years. Reassortments that introduced previously unobserved influenza genetic material were detected. These findings point to substantial potential for rapid generation of novel avian influenza A viruses, emphasizing the importance of intensive surveillance of these host species in preparation for a possible pandemic.