Roger Tory Peterson was an avid photographer for his entire life.Roger Tory Peterson’s life was never the same again after the publication of his Field Guide to Eastern Birds in 1934. He might have known this when the first printing of the guide sold out in less than a month.
Soon after the publication of the guide, Peterson was hired by The Audubon Society to assist with publications and outreach. His bird watching pamphlets for the Junior Audubon Club were instrumental in increasing membership from 100,000 to 400,000.
Nearly every project Peterson became involved in seemed to benefit from his Midas touch. His columns in Bird Lore
magazine (predecessor to Audubon
) and illustrated articles in Life Magazine
helped establish a national audience of bird watchers.
During his service in World War II he put his field guide talents to use creating plane-spotting manuals. He also worked with Rachel Carson (eventual author of Silent Spring) during the war, studying the effects of DDT on birds and animals.
Peterson's nature films were among the most popular in the traveling Audubon Film Series.
This was a Renaissance man. Roger Peterson made nature films. He helped to form conservation organizations and supported conservation causes large and small. He mentored young naturalists and artists. And he traveled the world looking at birds and nature with fellow bird watchers and naturalists.
Along the way he received every major natural history award, dozens of honorary degrees, and The Presidential Medal of Freedom, which he received in 1980, from President Jimmy Carter.
Some of the titles in the Peterson Field Guide series.
Over the decades, the Peterson field guide series was expanded to include other subjects, eventually comprising more than 45 titles.
With his own painting of a pair of peregrine falcons.
He also wrote and edited numerous other bird and nature books. One of them was the first bird book I ever owned, The Time-Life book Birds.
Man I loved that book! I pored over the illustrations (done by RTP and other famous illustrators) and nearly memorized the text.
My first Peterson book.
Inside the front cover of the book is written, in my mom's handwriting: "For Billy Thompson, Christmas 1969."
The inscription inside the book, written by my mom. The book was a gift from my grandmother Margaret Thompson.
Just 16 years after receiving that book for Christmas, I would meet Roger Peterson in person at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Pennsylvania. And a few years later, in 1988, I would work directly with him as he wrote a regular column for a relatively new magazine called Bird Watcher's Digest
His lifetime of teaching people, directly and indirectly, about birds and nature, and his continuous desire for more knowledge earned Roger Tory Peterson the unofficial title of "the foremost naturalist in the world.
For a video overview of the life of Roger Tory Peterson, please follow this link to the Peterson Field Guides site. Click on "Biography."
Hard at work in his Old Lyme, Connecticut studio. RTP worked until the day he died in 1996.
You may also be interested in reading the two recent biographies of Roger Tory Peterson:
Roger Tory Peterson: A Biography by Douglas Carlson
Birdwatcher: The Life of Roger Tory Peterson by Elizabeth Rosenthal
The new episode of my podcast This Birding Life
features a reading of Dr. Peterson's essay "Capsized by a Rogue Wave" from "All Things Reconsidered"
the book of RTP's columns from Bird Watcher's Digest
Tomorrow: Happy Birthday and the New Guide.
Labels: All Things Reconsidered, Bird Watcher's Digest, Peterson Biographies, Peterson Field Guide Video Podcasts, Peterson Field Guides, Roger Tory Peterson, This Birding Life podcast