In spring 2006, highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAIV) of subtype H5N1 was detected in Germany in 343 dead wild birds, as well as in a black swan (Cygnus atratus) kept in a zoo, three stray cats, one stone marten (Martes foina), and in a single turkey farm. In 2007 (June-July) the virus reoccurred in 96 wild birds at six geographically separate locations in the Southeast of Germany. In addition, a backyard mixed duck and goose holding was affected. Real-time RT-PCR [Hoffmann, B., Harder, T., Starick, E., Depner, K., Werner, O., Beer, M., 2007. Rapid and highly sensitive pathotyping of avian influenza A H5N1 virus by using real-time reverse transcription-PCR. J. Clin. Microbiol. 45, 600-603] and nucleotide sequencing confirmed that these H5-viruses belonged to the Qinghai lineage of HPAIV H5N1 (clade 2.2). For a more detailed analysis, the hemagglutinin and neuraminidase genes of 27 selected German H5N1 viruses isolated 2006 or 2007 and originating from different regions and animal species were sequenced and analysed phylogenetically. As a result, three closely related but distinguishable H5N1 subclades could be defined: In 2006 a 'Northern type' (subclade 2.2.2), representing virus isolates from the German federal states Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Schleswig-Holstein, Brandenburg, and Lower Saxony, and a 'Southern type' (subclade 2.2.1) from Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria were detected. Interestingly, representatives of both types were present in Central Germany and caused the outbreak in turkeys (subclade 2.2.2) and in a case in a tufted duck (Aythya fuligula) (subclade 2.2.1) in Saxony. Furthermore, one isolate from the South of Germany was identified as 2.2.2 and vice versa a 2.2.1-like isolate was found in Northern Germany. H5N1 viruses isolated in 2007 belonged to a third type (subclade 2.2.3) which was not detected in 2006. Our data suggest the introduction of three distinct H5N1 variants into the wild bird population of Germany. The source of these viruses and the exact time of introduction remain obscure. Based on the identification of closely related H5N1 viruses from Southern and Central Russia, a recent introduction via wild birds on winter escape from these regions, early in 2006 constitutes the most likely scenario for the 2006 outbreaks. The viruses detected in 2007 most likely represent another new incursion from an as yet unknown source.