The S1 mRNA of avian reovirus is functionally tricistronic, encoding three unrelated proteins, p10, p17 and σC, from three sequential, partially overlapping open reading frames (ORFs). The mechanism of translation initiation at the 3'-proximal σC ORF is currently unknown. Transient RNA transfections using Renilla luciferase reporter constructs revealed only a modest reduction in reporter expression upon optimization of either the p10 or p17 start sites. Insertion of multiple upstream AUG (uAUG) codons in a preferred start codon sequence context resulted in a substantial retention of downstream translation initiation on the S1 mRNA, but not on a heterologous mRNA. The S1 mRNA therefore facilitates leaky scanning to promote ribosome access to the σC start codon. Evidence also indicates that σC translation is mediated by a second scanning-independent mechanism capable of bypassing upstream ORFs. This alternate mechanism is cap-dependent and requires a sequence-dependent translation enhancer element that is complementary to 18S rRNA. Downstream translation initiation of the tricistronic S1 mRNA is therefore made possible by two alternate mechanisms, facilitated leaky scanning and an atypical form of ribosome shunting. This dual mechanism of downstream translation initiation ensures sufficient expression of the σC cell attachment protein that is essential for infectious progeny virus production.