Specimens for the detection of avian influenza virus (AIV) were collected from 1937 waterfowl on the Wexford Sloblands, a major wetland reserve in southeast Ireland, between January 2003 and September 2007. During the same period, 1404 waterfowl were sampled at other locations in Ireland. Specimens were tested either by virus isolation or real-time reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (rtRT–PCR). A total of 32 isolates of AIV, comprising nine subtypes, was obtained from specimens from the Sloblands compared with just one isolate from elsewhere in Ireland. Samples from nine other waterfowl, five of which were from the Sloblands, tested positive for AIV by rtRT–PCR. Ecological factors are likely to have contributed to the higher detection rate of AIV at the Sloblands compared with the rest of Ireland. It was concluded that targeted surveillance at such sites is a cost-effective means of monitoring the circulation of new AIVs in waterfowl, whereas widespread opportunistic sampling is unproductive and wasteful of resources.