West Nile virus (WNV) is principally considered to be maintained in a mosquito–bird transmission cycle. Under experimental conditions, several other transmission routes have been observed, but the significance of these additional routes in nature is unknown. Here, we derive an expression for the basic reproduction number (R0) for WNV including all putative routes of transmission between birds and mosquitoes to gauge the relative importance of these routes for the establishment of WNV. Parameters were estimated from published experimental results. Sensitivity analysis reveals that R0 is sensitive to transmission between birds via close contact, but not to mosquito-to-mosquito transmission. In seasons or in areas where the mosquito-to-bird ratio is low, bird-to-bird transmission may be crucial in determining whether WNV can establish or not. We explain the use of R0 as a flexible tool to measure the risk of establishment of vector-borne diseases.