About HBW Alive

HBW Alive is 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.

HBW Alive follows the taxonomy laid out in the HBW and BirdLife International Checklist of the Birds of the World. To help better understand the concept, including the methodology, behind the taxonomy, we recommend that you read the Introduction to Volume 1: Non-passerines and the Introduction to Volume 2: Passerines.

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, c. 15 million words, 1030 plates painted by 33 artists, 20,617 figures, 10,200 maps and c. 100,000 bibliographical references.

Now as an online project, HBW Alive is a living resource, a new way of learning and interacting with ornithological information. All contents, including texts, maps and artwork are constantly updated through a combination of professional editors and moderated user participation.

Videos, photographs and sounds enlighten many concepts and data. A great number of audiovisual materials available on the internet complement the texts and the HBW Alive provides fast, organised access to a large number of them.

HBW Alive provides a highly customizable format, with geographical filtering and personal notes which will meet every user’s needs and interests.


Introductory message from Josep del Hoyo
Senior Editor of the Handbook of the Birds of the World
Director of HBW Alive

We would like to welcome you to HBW Alive and explain our plans for the continuation of the Handbook of the Birds of the World as a growing and constantly updated project: the brand new HBW Alive.

We are reliving the excitement we felt in the mid 1980s. Then, as a small group of young ornithologists, we set out to produce a large encyclopaedic work which would for the first time ever illustrate and cover in detail every species of bird in the world. At that time, even though we were grateful for the largely positive reception of the project, many people (and most reviewers) expressed understandable doubts about our chances of completing the task. Now, our new plan is even more ambitious and challenging, and we anticipate some healthy skepticism. But we are just as passionate as before, and equally prepared to assume the responsibility and hard work that lies ahead. We are confident that HBW Alive will become an indispensible tool for every ornithologist and serious birder in the world, as well as forming part of the revolutionary process of change that large scientific and encyclopaedic reference works must undergo as they adapt to the digital era.

The first obvious goal of this initiative is to make the contents of the 17 large HBW volumes—around 15 million words and well over 20,000 bird illustrations—available to subscribers online. But we want it to be much, much more than that...

For many of us, especially those of a certain age, it will always be a pleasure to own and hold in our hands a good book, but we must concede that today’s digital technologies provide a number of unquestionable advantages for large reference works. A simple example is the powerful and incredibly fast search capability, meaning that now it takes a matter of seconds to list all the times that, let us say, “aerial display” is mentioned anywhere in the work. Another advantage of such technology is that the product can be highly customized according to your own preferences for bird names, presentation, formats and other parameters, and you can even filter the contents to show only those relevant to your country, or to any country or combination of countries, or to any major region of the world that may interest you. This feature, when applied in the “plates view”, converts HBW Alive into a surprising visual field guide generator for any country in the world. And with time, many other territories, states, provinces, protected areas, and even users’ local patches may well be recognized by the system.

Another of the internet’s strengths is the huge amount of material of all types, particularly audiovisual, which is present on all sort of websites, and keeps growing exponentially, although not always perfectly organized or easy to find. Developing linking functions that put this material at our fingertips just where we need it may prove to be a big improvement over the traditional system of reading or studying. For example, we are not used to having a large number of photos to complement plumage descriptions, or voice recordings to listen to while reading about the vocalizations of a bird, not to mention lots of videos to accompany the explanations of behaviours like complex courtship displays. We think that having all of this on HBW Alive will surely make the learning process more efficient and enjoyable.

Of course one of the main reasons for the existence of HBW Alive is to update all of the contents of the HBW series, some of which inevitably became outdated shortly after being printed, and to do so in a constant, efficient and trackable way, avoiding, for instance, those expensive update volumes that need to be updated themselves after a few years. As an innovation, our idea is for the updating process to combine the best of two worlds that are sometimes presented as contradictory: extensive user participation and the engagement of fully dedicated, professional ornithological editors. At the launch, the updating of a good number of species accounts by the editors will have already started and will continue at a steady pace, though it will take some time to complete the updating process of the whole work, covering up to 20 years and the many thousands of articles published. When we do reach the ideal point of having everything up to date, the process will only involve the incorporation of new knowledge, practically as soon as it is published. In fact, reaching this desirable phase as soon as possible is one of the important reasons we wish to have a large number of subscribers from the start, as no doubt this will allow us to increase our efforts towards this goal.

Regarding user participation in HBW Alive, we wish to facilitate this as much as possible, always with the idea of promoting the very positive movement of “citizen science”, and to enrich the use of the product, making it simple for the subscriber to compare any content with his or her notes or data. It would be too tedious to go into detail about all the ways we will make this participation easy, but we hope that one of them, “ornithological notess”, a straightforward, adaptable and easily referenced way of publishing ornithological information open to anyone, will help increase the sharing of useful bird information that too often remains locked away in the brains of birders forever. If this is achieved, ornithology and birding will become even more participatory, which has always been a characteristic of our activity.

As you will see on the website, individual users are offered two subscription options. Basic membership grants access to all the main content of HBW Alive and most related resources, but for a little extra we also offer a Supporting Membership. The most gratifying advantage of this is to know that you are aiding the progress of the project even more, and at the same time helping to keep it affordable for interested users in all parts of the world. Of course we also want to reward the loyalty of Supporting Members with more tangible advantages. Basically, there are two: a comprehensive bibliographical search function throughout the work, and the use of a complete recording system for your personal sightings. Thus, as an improvement with regard to the HBW volumes, all the updating information will be added, giving full reference to its bibliographical sources (you will be able to show or hide all the icons and links as you wish). This is accessible to all subscribers, but Supporting Members will also be able to consult a fuller page for each reference, with links to the publication web sites, to other references by the same authors, and when possible and legal, to the abstracts or even the full articles in pdf format. This advantage, which, like many other parts of the work, we want to improve considerably as the project advances, has been conceived as particularly useful to scientist authors, academy ornithologists and students. At the same time the second advantage provided to Supporting Members will be of special interest to active field birders, especially those travelling abroad. All Members will be able to mark each species as seen or not, and this will be shown while consulting any relevant parts of the work. On top of this, the sightings recording system available to Supporting Members will afford them well organized and easy consultation of all of their records, displayable in many ways, including simultaneously to the main contents of HBW Alive, linked to their photos or other recordings, and with the possibility of producing different kinds of reports. In fact, one of the improvements that we want to add soon will be a trip report generator which will facilitate the exchange of information between travellers as well as local birders. As a long-time user of several recording computer programs, I am sure that one of the advantages that HBW Alive Supporting members will celebrate most is that, being linked to HBW Alive and its evolving taxonomy, which will be based on the forthcoming, modern and consistent HBW and BirdLife International Checklist of the Birds of the World, the updating of your many records when major taxonomic changes are applied will be much smoother than ever, and always, of course, under your careful supervision.

But of all the novelties introduced by HBW Alive, what may best lead to a major global impact is that it can reach many more people across the world and only those that could afford to purchase the HBW volumes. The annual basic fee of 29.95 € represents barely more than 1% of the total cost of the discounted offer to buy the full set of 17 volumes, and we hope it will be affordable to every person interested in birds in practically any country in the world. On top of this, the integration of the Google automatic translator in all of the pages of HBW Alive, producing reasonable versions of the English texts in 71 different languages, will bring the content closer to an important part of the world population with little or no knowledge of English.

Making all these comprehensive, growing and improving contents affordable to this potentially large audience is what makes us affirm—feeling that it is true and not a mere sales pitch—that HBW Alive will have an impact on conservation worldwide. We are convinced that efficient and affordable ornithological tools are essential for the outset and growth of local communities of people interested in watching birds and appreciative of nature in general, as shown in some parts of the world decades ago with the appearance of the first illustrated field guides. In fact, since the beginning of the conservationist movement, birders and ornithologists have led the way defending the environment and biodiversity in many countries. HBW Alive aims to increase this tendency, and to help it to happen in many other parts of the world—everywhere if possible—as birds, and the people attracted to them, occur worldwide and in practically all human groups and cultures.

Since the beginning of HBW we have worked with the same, undiminished enthusiasm we are now applying to the project ahead: to make HBW Alive an indispensible tool for ornithologists and serious birders all over the world. We sincerely wish to welcome you to our dynamic community and look forward to your participation in HBW Alive.