ROGER TORY PETERSON

Photo of Roger Tory Peterson

Roger was born on August 28, 1908, in Jamestown, New York, the son of immigrant parents from Sweden and Germany. He became interested in birds and joined a Junior Audubon Club at age 11. Soon thereafter he purchased field glasses, a camera, and the Reed Bird Guides. As a young man he was influenced by ornithologist Ludlow Griscom and the bird artists, Louis Agassiz Fuertes and Francis Lee Jaques. At 19 he enrolled in the Art Students League in New York City and later studied at the National Academy of Art Design (1929-31). He received a DSc degree from Franklin & Marshall College in 1952. At the Bronx County Bird Club he met Joe Hickey and Allan Cruickshank, both enthusiastic young field birders. On a visit to the Buffalo Museum of Natural Science in 1928, he was encouraged by John Aldrich to continue his deepening interest in birds, and afterwards taught natural history and art in summer camps in Michigan, Massachusetts, and Maine.

In the early 1930s, as a young struggling artist, he became skilled at noticing distinctive features of birds so that any bird could be readily identified from other birds at a glance. His first book, A Field Guide to the Birds, appeared in 1934, demonstrating the prominent field marks that enabled quick identification. Since then, four updated revisions of the eastern guide, 47 reprintings, and more than seven million copies of Peterson's two field guides (eastern and western) have been sold.

In 1934, Roger joined the staff of the National Association of Audubon Societies as educational director and art director for Bird Lore, the Societies' magazine. He redesigned Audubon Junior Leaflets and revised the requirements for the Boy Scouts' Bird Study Merit Badge. He published A Field Guide to Western Birds (1941), and continued to write and illustrate articles aimed at a popular market, bridging the gap between professional ornithologists and amateur bird-watchers.

In 1943, Roger was drafted into the Army Corps of Engineers, Fort Belvoir, Virginia, where he was first in the camouflage unit and later the unit assigned to produce technical manuals. Life magazine used his field guide principles for a plane-spotting manual; later the Air Corps used them in their training manual for plane identification. Once, he persuaded a drill sergeant to reroute marching troops so as to avoid a horned lark's nest. In his apartment's tiny bathroom with white tiles, he continued to paint birds from memory, sketches, and photographs, some taken at National Airport. After the war, Roger moved his family to Glen Echo, Maryland, where he attracted ornithologists from all over the world, and continued to build his reputation as a skilled bird artist and wildlife photographer. Recognition of his natural history skills brought membership in the Washington Biologists' Field Club in 1947 and honorary membership in 1982.

He was a dogged proponent of environmental protection and banning of DDT. Following a move to Old Lyme, Connecticut, Roger continued to publish field guides and other books, and was rewarded by many public accolades, including the American Ornithologists' Union Brewster Medal, the Gold Medal of the New York Zoological Society, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

He married Mildred Warner Washington on December 19, 1936. He was married a second time to Barbara Coulter on July 29, 1943.

Roger died in 1996. He was respected worldwide as an ornithologist, artist, writer, and wildlife photographer. A warm, forthright person, Roger left a legacy of untiring zeal in the pursuit of bird studies and the conservation of natural resources for future generations to enjoy.

Photo of Roger Tory Peterson