There is growing interest in avian influenza (AI) epidemiology to predict disease risk in wild and domestic birds, and prevent transmission to humans. However, understanding the epidemic dynamics of highly pathogenic (HPAI) viruses remains challenging because they have rarely been detected in wild birds. We used modeling to integrate available scientific information from laboratory and field studies, evaluate AI dynamics in individual hosts and waterfowl populations, and identify key areas for future research. We developed a Susceptible-Exposed-Infectious-Recovered (SEIR) model and used published laboratory challenge studies to estimate epidemiological parameters (rate of infection, latency period, recovery and mortality rates), considering the importance of age classes, and virus pathogenicity. Infectious contact leads to infection and virus shedding within 1–2 days, followed by relatively slower period for recovery or mortality. We found a shorter infectious period for HPAI than low pathogenic (LP) AI, which may explain that HPAI has been much harder to detect than LPAI during surveillance programs. Our model predicted a rapid LPAI epidemic curve, with a median duration of infection of 50–60 days and no fatalities. In contrast, HPAI dynamics had lower prevalence and higher mortality, especially in young birds. Based on field data from LPAI studies, our model suggests to increase surveillance for HPAI in post-breeding areas, because the presence of immunologically naïve young birds is predicted to cause higher HPAI prevalence and bird losses during this season. Our results indicate a better understanding of the transmission, infection, and immunity-related processes is required to refine predictions of AI risk and spread, improve surveillance for HPAI in wild birds, and develop disease control strategies to reduce potential transmission to domestic birds and/or humans.