Highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses of the subtype H5N1 (HPAIV-H5N1) have circulated continuously in Asia, Europe, and Africa since 2003. Investigations on the environmental preference and global spread processes of the virus are needed. We compiled 16 environmental variables to assess their correlation with HPAIV-H5N1 occurrences by using a niche-based model called Maxent. We found the virus had the strongest positive association with the human footprint index, as well as the presence of certain types of wetlands and mild temperature (10-30 C). Outbreaks of HPAIV-H5N1 in poultry or wild birds were also more frequent in certain major habitat types (e.g., tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests, temperate broadleaf and mixed forests, and flooded grasslands and savannas) and ecoregions. We conducted trend surface analysis to generate the travelling wave of the virus' global spread from 2003 to 2009, which indicated that high mountains or plateaus did not affect the spread speed and direction.