Low-virulence Newcastle disease viruses (loNDV) are frequently recovered from wild bird species, but little is known about their distribution, genetic diversity, or potential to cause disease in poultry. NDV isolates recovered from cloacal samples of apparently healthy waterfowl and shorebirds (WS) in the United States during 1986 to 2005 were examined for genomic diversity and their potential for virulence (n = 249). In addition 19 loNDV isolates from U.S. live bird markets (LBMs) were analyzed and found to be genetically distinct from NDV used in live vaccines but related to WS-origin NDV. Phylogenetic analysis of the fusion protein identified nine novel genotypes among the class I NDV, and new genomic subgroups were identified among genotypes I and II of the class II viruses. The WS-origin viruses exhibited broad genetic and antigenic diversity, and some WS genotypes displayed a closer phylogenetic relationship to LBM-origin NDV. All NDV were predicted to be lentogenic based upon sequencing of the fusion cleavage site, intracerebral pathogenicity index, or mean death time in embryo assays. The USDA real-time reverse transcription-PCR assay, which targets the matrix gene, identified nearly all of the class II NDV tested but failed to detect class I viruses from both LBM and WS. The close phylogenetic proximity of some WS and LBM loNDV suggests that viral transmission may occur among wild birds and poultry; however, these events may occur unnoticed due to the broad genetic diversity of loNDV, the lentogenic presentation in birds, and the limitations of current rapid diagnostic tools.