Infectious bursa] disease virus (IBDV) is a birnavirus causing immunosuppressive disease in chickens. Emergence of the very virulent form of IBDV (vvIBDV) in the late 1980s dramatically changed the epidemiology of the disease. In this study, we investigated the phylogenetic origins of its genome segments and estimated the time of emergence of their most recent common ancestors. Moreover, with recently developed coalescence techniques, we reconstructed the past population dynamics of vvIBDV and timed the onset of its expansion to the late 1980s. Our analysis suggests that genome segment A of vvIBDV emerged at least 20 years before its expansion, which argues against the hypothesis that mutation of genome segment A is the major contributing factor in the emergence and expansion of vvIBDV. Alternatively, the phylogeny of genome segment B suggests a possible reassortment event estimated to have taken place around the mid-1980s, which seems to coincide with its expansion within approximately 5 years. We therefore hypothesize that the reassortment of genome segment B initiated vvIBDV expansion in the late 1980s, possibly by enhancing the virulence of the virus synergistically with its existing genome segment A. This report reveals the possible mechanisms leading to the emergence and expansion of vvIBDV, which would certainly provide insights into the scope of surveillance and prevention efforts regarding the disease.