Getting the bird: Books could fly off shelves for £6m

A COPY of 19th-century ornithologist and painter John James Audubon's Birds of America could sell for up to £6 million when it goes under the hammer at Sotheby's in London today.

The books, in "double elephant folio" size, portray all the birds life-size. A copy of the same work set a world record price of 8.8m in 2000.

The four-volume edition being sold today is among books, manuscripts and drawings from the collection of Lord Hesketh, who died in 1955.

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There is also a letter dated 31 October, 1584, from Queen Elizabeth I criticising the imprisoned Mary, Queen of Scots. In it, the English monarch writes of Mary's "sundry hard and daungerous coorses heald towardes us".

Also going under the hammer is the first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays, First Folio, dated 1623. It includes Macbeth, The Tempest and Twelfth Night and is expected to sell for up to 1.5m.

The whole sale is forecast to raise up to 16m.