H1N1 viruses in which all gene segments are of avian origin are the most frequent cause of influenza pandemics in humans; therefore, we examined the disease-causing potential of 31 avian H1N1 isolates of American lineage in DBA/2J mice. Thirty of 31 isolates were very virulent, causing respiratory tract infection; 22 of 31 resulted in fecal shedding; and 10 of 31 were as pathogenic as the pandemic 2009 H1N1 viruses. Preliminary studies in BALB/cJ mice and ferrets showed that 1 of 4 isolates tested was more pathogenic than the pandemic 2009 H1N1 viruses in BALB/cJ mice, and 1 of 2 strains transmitted both by direct and respiratory-droplet contact in ferrets. Preliminary studies of other avian subtypes (H2, H3, H4, H6, H10, H12) in DBA/2J mice showed lower pathogenicity than the avian H1N1 viruses. These findings suggest that avian H1N1 influenza viruses are unique among influenza A viruses in their potential to infect mammals.