A rare first edition of French-American ornithologist and painter John James Audubon's colour-plate book The Birds of America is estimated to fetch around $10 million at an upcoming auction on Jan. 20.

Considered one of the finest works of art in ornithology, the illustrated book contains over 400 life-size North American species of birds in four monumental volumes. The life-sized prints of the birds were made from engraved copper plates of various sizes, depending on the size of the image, which were then printed on sheets.

The pages were organized for artistic effect and contrasting interest, as if the reader were taking a visual tour. It took more than 14 years of field observations and drawings, plus his single-handed management and promotion of the project to make it a success.

The set which was sold by the heirs of the 4th Duke of Portland will be auctioned at Christie's and will also be accompanied by a complete first-edition five-volume set of Audubon's Ornithological Biography.

Both the illustrations and the biography are on view at Christie's Rockefeller Center galleries till Jan.19, after which they will be auctioned.

According to experts, around 200 complete first-edition copies were produced during the 1827-1838 period out of which only 120 exist currently.

Earlier, another complete first edition of The Birds of America was auctioned in December 2010 by Sotheby's in London for $11.5 million, setting new records for the most expensive printed book sold at an auction.