Source Content

Birds of the World (BOW) content is written by leading ornithologists and was amassed from several celebrated works of ornithology: Birds of North America, The Handbook of Birds of the World, Neotropical Birds, Birds of Southern Africa, and Bird Families of the World. Below we provide a brief overview of these volumes plus the data and media sources that underpin its innovative platform.

Birds of North America
An out-of-print serial publication, formerly hosted online by Cornell Lab of Ornithology and American Ornithological Society

The Birds of North America (BNA) provided encyclopedic coverage of the biology of North American breeding birds, with species accounts written by recognized experts. The BNA project was initiated in 1992 as a collaboration between the Academy of Natural Sciences and the American Ornithological Society (AOS; formerly known as American Ornithologists’ Union), and while the content is owned by Cornell Lab of Ornithology, our editorial team continues to work closely with the AOS Advisory Committee. Initially produced in hard copy, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology along with BNA’s first editor, Alan Poole, spearheaded the second generation of the project by establishing BNA Online in 2004, which debuted as an online subscription-based service.

A new era for BNA ensured when it began to take advantage of the wealth of Cornell Lab assets, including images, sounds, and video from Macaulay Library, and maps and data visualizations from eBird. This deep integration has been extended in Birds of the World.

The Handbook of The Birds of the World
A 17-volume set, formerly hosted online as HBW Alive by Lynx Edicions

HBW Alive was an online comprehensive reference resource for all the birds of the world. It contains the contents of the acclaimed 17-volume Handbook of the Birds of the World (HBW) Series.

The print version of the HBW series was launched in 1992 and was completed in June 2013, with a total of 13,367 pages written by 277 authors from 40 different countries, c. 15 million words, 1,030 plates painted by recognized scientific illustrators from four different countries, 20,617 figures, 10,200 maps and c. 100,000 bibliographical references. The rights were transferred to Cornell Lab of Ornithology in 2019.

Species accounts were enhanced by reader-contributed videos, photographs and sounds from the Internet Birding Collection. The IBC collection was transferred to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Macaulay Library (only for users who opted into this process) in 2019.

Neotropical Birds
Formerly hosted online by Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Neotropical Birds Online was a free, authoritative, online resource for life histories of Neotropical birds. The scope of Neotropical Birds Online included all bird species that regularly occur in the Neotropics, from Mexico and the Caribbean south to southernmost South America. The emphasis was on species that breed within this region.

Like BNA, each Neotropical Birds account was an online scientific publication. Full credit was given to the author, or collaborating team of authors, for writing the account. Though most of these accounts are now behind a Birds of the World pay wall, Cornell’s commitment to sharing this information with tropical ornithologists continues. Our International Contributor Scholarship Program provides access to this community.

Birds of Southern Africa (“Roberts 8”)
Roberts 8 Birds of Southern Africa logoEdited by David Allan, Derek Engelbrecht, and Peter Ryan for the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund

For more than 80 years, Roberts Birds of Southern Africa, published by the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund (JVBBF), has been the leading ornithological reference work for southern Africa. In 2005, the landmark 7th edition (Roberts 7) was published, but since then knowledge of the southern African avifauna has grown exponentially. The JVBBF has partnered with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology on a multi-year effort to update and release Roberts 8 species profiles on Birds of the World.

Bird Families of the World: An Invitation to the Spectacular Diversity of Birds
Written by David W. Winkler, Shawn M. Billerman, Irby J. Lovette and co-published by Lynx Edicions and Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Still available. 

Bird Families of the World is a bold synopsis of the diversity of all birds and the first major partnership between Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Lynx Edicions. Published in 2015, between the two volumes of the HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World, this volume distills the voluminous detail of the 17-volume Handbook of Birds of the World into a single book. Based on the latest systematic research and summarizing what is known about the life history and biology of each group, this print volume was the best available single-volume entry to avian diversity.

Birds of the World extensively updates the fascinating information within Bird Families of the World and retains it as a living volume.

Macaulay Library

A media collection hosted online by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Documenting bird behavior has been a central goal of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology since its inception. The Lab has been a key agent in adopting and promoting, and in many cases developing, new technologies for the documentation of animal behavior and natural history. The Macaulay Library is a scientific archive for research, education, and conservation, powered by amateur and professional photographers, videographers, and sound recordists all over the world. The Library contains the world’s largest collection of animal sounds as well as a rapidly growing photo and video library of animal behavior. As of its March, 2020 debut, Birds of the World had imported more than 16 million multimedia assets into its platform.


A citizen science inventory of the world’s birds and data science innovation center

eBird is the world’s largest biodiversity-related citizen science project, with more than 100 million bird sightings contributed each year by eBirders around the world. A collaborative enterprise with hundreds of partner organizations, thousands of regional experts, and hundreds of thousands of users, eBird data document bird distribution, abundance, habitat use, and trends through checklist data collected within a simple, scientific framework: birders enter when, where, and how they went birding, and then fill out a checklist of all the birds seen and heard. Scientists use these data to develop maps and other scientific outputs. At its March, 2020 debut, Birds of the World had been integrated with more than 700 million eBird observations. Here is how the data have been intertwined with its scholarly content.

Internet Bird Collection
A media collection formerly hosted online by Lynx Edicions

A sister project of HBW Alive and the HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World, the Internet Bird Collection (IBC) was an on-line audiovisual library of videos, photos and sound recordings of the world’s birds that was available to the general public free of charge. Its initial aim was to post at least one video, photo or sound recording of every species in the world. It followed the taxonomy presented in the Illustrated Checklist and was constantly updated by contributors. The IBC program was closed in 2019 and the donated media was imported into the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Macaulay Library in 2019. Total imported assets included:

  • Total videos: 127,808
  • Total photos: 241,601
  • Total sounds: 16,201

Oriental Bird Club Image Database
A media collection formerly hosted by the Oriental Bird Club

From 2002 to 2021, the Oriental Bird Club Image Database (OBI) was a place to share and explore images of Asian birds. Covering regions from Pakistan to Wallacea, and from Mongolia and Japan to the Lesser Sundas and Christmas Island, the OBI website was an invaluable tool for learning about the avifauna of this broad region. Created by the hard work of over a thousand photographers, and carefully curated by Krys Kazmierczak, the Oriental Bird Club helped to host the site and make it available to the birding and conservation community. In 2021, the OBC decided that the time had come for the OBI to find a new home at the Macaulay Library. Staff at the Macaulay Library and eBird carefully matched the OBI taxonomy and written locations to current eBird/Clements taxonomy and modern geographic coordinates. We were greatly assisted in this by our valued partners and regional eBird reviewers throughout the OBI region. The meticulous curation and regionally comprehensive scope of the collection is particularly impressive—many of the images were identified to subspecies previously unrepresented in the Macaulay Library.  The historical value of such documentation cannot be overstated. Explore this collection.

  • Total species: 3,040
  • Total photos: 177,129
  • Total contributors: 1,029