Recent demand for increased understanding of avian influenza virus in its natural hosts, together with the development of high-throughput diagnostics, has heralded a new era in wildlife disease surveillance. However, survey design, sampling, and interpretation in the context of host populations still present major challenges. We critically reviewed current surveillance to distill a series of considerations pertinent to avian influenza virus surveillance in wild birds, including consideration of what, when, where, and how many to sample in the context of survey objectives. Recognizing that wildlife disease surveillance is logistically and financially constrained, we discuss pragmatic alternatives for achieving probability-based sampling schemes that capture this host-pathogen system. We recommend hypothesis-driven surveillance through standardized, local surveys that are, in turn, strategically compiled over broad geographic areas. Rethinking the use of existing surveillance infrastructure can thereby greatly enhance our global understanding of avian influenza and other zoonotic diseases.