Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV) genotype dominance has shifted to genotype I (GI) from genotype III (GIII) in China as demonstrated by molecular epidemiological surveillance. In this study, we performed a serological survey in JEV-non-vaccinated pigs to confirm JEV genotype shift at the sero-epidemiological level. The average ratio of GI/GIII infection was 1.87, suggesting co-circulation of GI and GIII infections with GI infection being more prevalent in pigs in China. To gain an insight into the reasons for this JEV genotype shift, the replication kinetics of seven recently-isolated JEV isolates including three GI strains and four GIII strains were compared in mosquito C6/36 cells, chicken fibroblast cells (DF-1) and porcine iliac artery endothelial cells (PIEC). We observed that GI strains replicated more efficiently than GIII strains in DF-1 and PIEC cells, particularly in DF-1 cells with titers reaching 22.9–225.3 fold higher than GIII strains. This shows an enhanced replication efficiency of GI viruses in avian cells. To examine this enhanced replication efficiency in vivo, young domestic ducklings were used as the animal model and inoculated with GI and GIII strains at day 2 post-hatching. We observed that GI-inoculated ducklings developed higher viremia titers and displayed a comparatively longer viremic duration than GIII-inoculated ducklings. These results conform to the hypothesis of an enhanced replication efficiency for GI viruses in birds. There are 36 amino acid differences between GI and GIII viruses, some of which may be responsible for the enhanced replication efficiency of GI viruses in birds. Based on these findings, we speculated that the enhanced replication of GI viruses in birds would have resulted in higher exposure and therefore infection in mosquitoes, which could result in an increased transmission efficiency of GI viruses in the birds-mosquitoes-birds enzootic transmission cycle, thereby contributing to JEV genotype shift.