Since 1990, highly virulent infectious bursal disease virus (IBDV), which induces high mortality, has been infecting even vaccinated flocks in Japan. We report the efficacy of three live vaccines that are available in Japan. Two mildly attenuated strains (A and B) and one intermediate strain (C) were each tested both in specific-pathogen-free (SPF) chickens and in commercial chickens that have maternal antibodies against IBDV. Chickens were vaccinated at 20 days old and challenged with highly virulent IBDV 10 days post-vaccination. Protection was determined 7 days after challenge by measuring bursa/body weight ratios, histopathological lesions, and antibody responses to IBDV. All three lie vaccines conferred protection to SPF chickens. However, only vaccine C protected 100% of vaccinated commercial chickens against highly virulent IBDV; Vaccines A and B respectively protected three-fourths and none of vaccinated commercial chickens from severe bursal lesions. Vaccines A, B, and C and highly virulent IBDV induced bursal lesions in 3%, 0%, 23%, and 61% of inoculated commercial chickens, respectively. These results suggest that serological determination of the optimum vaccination time for each flock is required to effectively control highly virulent IBDV in the field. The optimum vaccination timing could be approximated by titrating the maternal IBDV antibodies of 1-day-old chicks by an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay or by an agar gel precipitin test.