An experimental infection with highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAIV) and low pathogenic avian influenza virus (LPAIV) was carried out in red-legged partridges (Alectoris rufa) in order to study clinical signs, gross and microscopic lesions, and viral distribution in tissues and viral shedding. Birds were infected with a HPAIV subtype H7N1 (A/Chicken/Italy/5093/1999) and a LPAIV subtype H7N9 (A/Anas crecca/Spain/1460/2008). Uninoculated birds were included as contacts in both groups. In HPAIV infected birds, the first clinical signs were observed at 3 dpi, and mortality started at 4 dpi, reaching 100% at 8 dpi. The presence of viral antigen in tissues and viral shedding were confirmed by immunohistochemistry and quantitative real time RT-PCR (qRRT-PCR), respectively, in all birds infected with HPAIV. However, neither clinical signs nor histopathological findings were observed in LPAIV infected partridges. In addition, only short-term viral shedding together with seroconversion was detected in some LPAIV inoculated animals. The present study demonstrates that the red-legged partridge is highly susceptible to the H7N1 HPAIV strain, causing severe disease, mortality and abundant viral shedding and thus contributing to the spread of a potential local outbreak of this virus. In contrast, our results concerning H7N9 LPAIV suggest that the red-legged partridge is not a reservoir species for this virus. © 2011 Bertran et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.