Epizootic transmission of West Nile virus (WNV) often intensifies rapidly leading to increasing risk of human infection, but the processes underlying amplification remain poorly understood. We quantified epizootic WNV transmission in communities of mosquitoes and birds in the Chicago, Illinois (USA) region during 2005 and 2006. Using quantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) methods, we detected WNV in 227 of 1195 mosquito pools (19%) in 2005 and 205 of 1685 (12%) in 2006; nearly all were Culex pipiens. In both years, mosquito infection rates increased rapidly in the second half of July to a peak of 59/1000 mosquitoes in 2005 and 33/1000 in 2006, and then declined slowly. Viral RNA was detected in 11 of 998 bird sera (1.1%) in 2005 and 3 of 1285 bird sera (<1%) in 2006; 11 of the 14 virus-positive birds were hatch-year birds. Of 540 hatch-year birds, 100 (18.5%) were seropositive in 2005, but only 2.8% (14/493) tested seropositive in 2006 for WNV antibodies using inhibition enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). We observed significant time series cross-correlations between mosquito infection rate and proportion of virus-positive birds, proportion of hatch-year birds captured in mist nets (significant in 2006 only), seroprevalence of hatch-year birds, and number of human cases in both seasons. These associations, coupled with the predominance of WNV infection and seropositivity in hatch-year birds, indicate a key role for hatch-year birds in the amplification of epizootic transmission of WNV, and in increasing human infection risk by facilitating local viral amplification.