Humans may be infected by different influenza A viruses--seasonal, pandemic, and zoonotic--which differ in presentation from mild upper respiratory tract disease to severe and sometimes fatal pneumonia with extra-respiratory spread. Differences in spatial and temporal dynamics of these infections are poorly understood. Therefore, we inoculated ferrets with seasonal H3N2, pandemic H1N1 (pH1N1), and highly pathogenic avian H5N1 influenza virus and performed detailed virological and pathological analyses at time points from 0.5 to 14 days post inoculation (dpi), as well as describing clinical signs and hematological parameters. H3N2 infection was restricted to the nose and peaked at 1 dpi. pH1N1 infection also peaked at 1 dpi, but occurred at similar levels throughout the respiratory tract. H5N1 infection occurred predominantly in the alveoli, where it peaked for a longer period, from 1 to 3 dpi. The associated lesions followed the same spatial distribution as virus infection, but their severity peaked between 1 and 6 days later. Neutrophil and monocyte counts in peripheral blood correlated with inflammatory cell influx in the alveoli. Of the different parameters used to measure lower respiratory tract disease, relative lung weight and affected lung tissue allowed the best quantitative distinction between the virus groups. There was extra-respiratory spread to more tissues--including the central nervous system--for H5N1 infection than for pH1N1 infection, and to none for H3N2 infection. This study shows that seasonal, pandemic, and zoonotic influenza viruses differ strongly in the spatial and temporal dynamics of infection in the respiratory tract and extra-respiratory tissues of ferrets.