Roger Tory Peterson

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Roger Tory Peterson
Roger Tory Peterson.jpg
Born(1908-08-28)August 28, 1908
Jamestown, New York
DiedJuly 28, 1996(1996-07-28) (aged 87)
Old Lyme, Connecticut
Occupationauthor, ornithologist, naturalist
Notable worksWild America, The Peterson Field Guides

Roger Tory Peterson (August 28, 1908 – July 28, 1996) was an American naturalist, ornithologist, illustrator and educator, and one of the founding inspirations for the 20th-century environmental movement.[1]


Peterson was born in Jamestown, New York, a small, industrial city in southwestern New York, on August 28, 1908. His father, Charles Gustav Peterson, was an immigrant from Sweden who came to America as an infant. At the age of ten, Charles Peterson lost his father to appendicitis and was sent off to work in the mills. After leaving the mills, he earned his living as a traveling salesman. Roger's mother, Henrietta Badar, was an immigrant, at the age of four, of German and Polish extraction, who grew up in Rochester, New York. She went to a teachers' college, and was teaching in Elmira, New York, when she met Charles. The two married, and moved to Jamestown, where Charles took a job at a local furniture factory.[2]

Roger's middle name honors his Uncle Tory who was living in Oil City, Pennsylvania, south of Jamestown. He graduated from high school in 1925 and went to work in one of Jamestown's many furniture companies. One of his high school teachers, Miss Hornbeck, had encouraged his sketching and painting of birds and nature while he waited to earn enough money to buy a camera. Several months after graduating, he traveled to New York City to attend a meeting of the American Ornithologists' Union, where he met distinguished figures such as the artist Louis Agassiz Fuertes and up-and-comers like Joseph Hickey.

Soon after, he moved to New York City and earned money by painting furniture, so that he could attend classes at the Art Students League in 1927-1929[3] and later at the National Academy of Design. He also managed to gain entrance to the eventually famous Bronx County Bird Club, though not himself from the Bronx. He hoped to attend Cornell University, but his family's finances were not sufficient for the cost of tuition. Instead, he managed to obtain a position as an art instructor at the Rivers School in Brookline, Massachusetts. In 1934, his A Field Guide to the Birds was published. The initial run of 2,000 copies sold out within a week.

Peterson was married three times: Briefly, to Mildred Washington. For 33 years, to Barbara Coulter, with whom he had two sons. And for 20 years, to Virginia Westervelt. His second and third wives contributed to the research and organization of his guides.[4]


Peterson's first work on birds was an article "Notes from field and study" in the magazine Bird-Lore, where he recorded anecdotally two sight records from 1925, a Carolina wren and a titmouse.[2]

Inspiration from E. T. Seton's diagram of ducks (1903)

In 1934 he published his seminal Guide to the Birds, the first modern field guide. It sold out its first printing of 2‚000 copies in one week, and went through six editions. One of the inspirations for his field guide was the diagram of ducks that Ernest Thompson Seton made in Two Little Savages (1903).[5] He co-wrote Wild America with James Fisher, and edited or wrote many of the volumes in the Peterson Field Guide series, on topics ranging from rocks and minerals to beetles to reptiles. He developed the Peterson Identification System, and is known for the clarity of both his illustrations of field guides and his delineation of relevant field marks.[6][7]

Paul R. Ehrlich, in The Birder's Handbook: A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds (Fireside. 1988), said of Peterson:

In this century, no one has done more to promote an interest in living creatures than Roger Tory Peterson, the inventor of the modern field guide.[8]

Peterson was awarded the Linnaean Society of New York's Eisenmann Medal in 1986,[9] the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom[10] and the Order of the Golden Ark of the Netherlands. In 1977, he was honored by selection by the two Swedish District lodges of the Vasa Order of America to be Swedish-American of the Year. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and received honorary doctorates from numerous American universities.[11]

He died in 1996 at his home in Old Lyme, Connecticut.[10] His remains were cremated and his ashes were spread on and round Great Island near Old Lyme,[12] and under grave memorials in the Duck River Cemetery in Old Lyme, and in the Pine Hill Cemetery in Falconer, New York.[13]

The Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History[edit]

Roger Tory Peterson Institute sign.

The Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History in Jamestown, New York is named in his honor.[14] In 2000, the American Birding Association established the Roger Tory Peterson Award for Promoting the Cause of Birding.[15]

A biography, Birdwatcher: The Life of Roger Tory Peterson by Elizabeth Rosenthal, was published in 2008, the centenary of Peterson's birth.[16]

See also[edit]


  • A Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern and Central North America (Houghton Mifflin‚ fifth edition. 2002, earlier editions 1934‚ 1939‚ 1941‚ 1947‚ 1980‚ 1994)
  • The Field Guide Art of Roger Tory Peterson (Easton Press, 1990. 2 volumes)
  • Save the Birds with Antony W. Diamond‚ Rudolf L. Schreiber‚ Walter Cronkite (Houghton Mifflin‚ 1987)
  • Peterson First Guide to Wildflowers of Northeastern and North-central North America (Houghton Mifflin‚ 1986)
  • Peterson First Guide to Birds of North America (Houghton Mifflin‚ 1986)
  • The Audubon Society Baby Elephant Folio with Virginia Peterson (Abbeville Press‚ 1981)
  • Penguins (Houghton Mifflin‚ 1979)
  • Birds of America (National Audubon Society‚ 1978)
  • A Field Guide to Mexican Birds with Edward Chalif (Houghton Mifflin, 1973, Spanish translation‚ Editorial Diana‚ 1989)
Roger Tory Peterson Institute.
  • A Field Guide to Wildflowers of Northeastern and North-central North America (with Margaret McKenny). (Houghton Mifflin‚ 1968)
  • The World of Birds with James Fisher (Doubleday‚ 1964)
  • A Field Guide to the Birds of Texas and Adjacent States (Houghton Mifflin‚ 1960, revised 1963)
  • A Bird-Watcher's Anthology (Harcourt Brace‚ 1957)
  • Wild America with James Fisher (Houghton Mifflin, 1955)
  • A Field Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe with Guy Mountfort, and P.A.D. Hollom (William Collins, 1954)
    • 1965 edition: revised and enlarged in collaboration with I.J. Ferguson-Lees and D.I.M. Wallace
    • 1971 impression: ISBN 0-00-212020-8
    • 2004 edition: ISBN 978-0-00-719234-2
  • Wildlife in Color (Houghton Mifflin‚ 1951)
  • How to Know the Birds (Houghton Mifflin‚ 1949)
  • Birds Over America (Dodd, Mead and Company‚ 1948, revised 1964)
  • A Field Guide to Western Birds (Houghton Mifflin‚ 1941, revised 1961‚ 1990)
  • The Audubon Guide to Attracting Birds with John H. Baker (National Audubon Society‚ 1941)


  1. ^ "Roger Tory Peterson' Biography (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)". Archived from the original on 2014-05-01. Retrieved 2014-02-24.
  2. ^ a b Carlson, Douglas (2007-10-01). "Table of Contents and Excerpt, Carlson, Roger Tory Peterson". University of Texas Press. p. 308. Archived from the original on 2011-06-28. Retrieved 2011-02-11.
  3. ^ "Roger Tory Peterson". Retrieved 15 July 2022.
  4. ^ Chilvers, Brooke (19 April 2022). "Roger Tory Peterson: The Book, The Man, His Wives". Gray’s Sporting Journal. Retrieved 26 July 2022.
  5. ^ Carson, Douglas (2012). Roger Tory Peterson: A Biography. University of Texas Press. p. 5.
  6. ^ "Roger Tory Peterson (The New York Times)". 1996-08-04. Archived from the original on 2012-04-04. Retrieved 2014-02-24.
  7. ^ Roger Tory Peterson (Wilsonart Laminate) Archived January 13, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Ehrlich, Dobkin and Wheye, 1988
  9. ^ Who's who in American Art. 1990. ISBN 9780835228978.
  10. ^ a b Severo, Richard (1996-07-30). "Roger Peterson, 87, the Nation's Guide to the Birds, is Dead". The New York Times.
  11. ^ Roger Tory Peterson (Vasa Order of America)[dead link]
  12. ^ "Roger Tory Peterson |".
  13. ^ Guide to the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History. Roger Tory Peterson Institute. 1995.
  14. ^ "Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History". Archived from the original on 2015-09-05. Retrieved 2015-09-02.
  15. ^ "American Birding Association Awards". Archived from the original on 20 December 2008. Retrieved 27 August 2012.
  16. ^ Engstrom, Todd. "Roger Tory Peterson: A Biography & Birdwatcher: The Life of Roger Tory Peterson" (review). 'The Auk', vol. 125, issue 4 (October 2008), pp. 991–993. Retrieved 2021-01-22.

Other sources[edit]

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