Pacheco's disease (PD) is a common, often fatal, disease of parrots. We cloned a virus isolate from a parrot that had characteristic lesions of PD. Three viral clones were partially sequenced, demonstrating that this virus was an alphaherpesvirus most closely related to the gallid herpesvirus 1. Five primer sets were developed from these sequences. The primer sets were used with PCR to screen tissues or tissue culture media suspected to contain viruses from 54 outbreaks of PD. The primer sets amplified DNA from all but one sample. Ten amplification patterns were detected, indicating that PD is caused by a genetically heterogeneous population of viruses. A single genetic variant (psittacid herpesvirus variant 1) amplified with all primer sets and was the most common virus variant (62.7%). A single primer set (23F) amplified DNA from all of the positive samples, suggesting that PCR could be used as a rapid postmortem assay for these viruses. PCR was found to be significantly more sensitive than tissue culture for the detection of psittacid herpesviruses.