In the winter 2016-2017 the largest epidemic of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) ever recorded in the European Union spread to all 28 member states. France was hit particularly hard and reported a total of 484 infected premises (IPs) by March 2017. We developed a mathematical model to analyze the spatiotemporal evolution of the epidemic and evaluate the impact of control strategies. We estimated that farms rearing ducks were on average 2.5 times more infectious and 5.0 times more susceptible to HPAI than farms rearing other avian species. The implementation of surveillance zones around IPs reduced transmission by a factor of 1.8 on average. Compared to the strengthening of pre-emptive culling measures enforced by French authorities in February 2017, we found that a faster depopulation of diagnosed IPs would have had a larger impact on the total number of infections. For example, halving the time delay from detection to slaughter of infected animals would have reduced the total number of IPs by 52% and total cull numbers by 50% on average. This study showcases the possible contribution of modeling to inform and optimize control strategies during an outbreak.