Infectious diseases present ecological and public health challenges that can be addressed with mathematical models. Certain pathogens, however, including the emerging West Nile virus (WN) in North America, exhibit a complex seasonal ecology that is not readily analysed with standard epidemiological methods. We develop a single–season susceptible–infectious–removed (SIR) model of WN cross–infection between birds and mosquitoes, incorporating specific features unique to WN ecology. We obtain the disease reproduction number, R0, and show that mosquito control decreases, but bird control increases, the chance of an outbreak. We provide a simple new analytical and graphical method for determining, from standard public health indicators, necessary mosquito control levels. We extend this method to a seasonally variable mosquito population and outline a multi–year model framework. The model's numerical simulations predict disease levels that are consistent with independent data.