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Roger Tory Peterson, Father of Bird Watching, Dies at 87

July 29, 1996

OLD LYME, Conn. (AP) _ Roger Tory Peterson, who turned millions of Americans into bird watchers through his easy-to-use, meticulously illustrated field guides, has died. He was 87.

Peterson died Sunday in his sleep at his home in Old Lyme, Elaine Lillis, his secretary, said today. He had suffered a mild stroke several months ago.

Peterson combined artistic talent with a lifelong scientific interest in birds to fashion a 60-year career during which he wrote, illustrated and edited 15 books that sold millions of copies and were translated into at least 12 languages.

Audubon magazine called him ``the man who turned bird watching into a super sport.″

Peterson probably was the world’s most knowledgeable bird watcher.

``I can recognize the calls of practically every bird in North America,″ he said in a 1993 interview at his Old Lyme home. ``There are some in Africa I don’t know, though.″

He traced his abiding interest in birds to a mystical experience he had with an injured flicker when he was 11 years old.

``I thought it was dead. One moment it was just a bundle of brown feathers. Then, suddenly it exploded into life, and I was hooked,″ he recalled.

Born Aug. 28, 1908, in Jamestown, N.Y., Peterson said it was his seventh-grade science teacher who first encouraged him to draw birds and to apply his talent for meticulous detail.

The first field guide, published in 1934 and featuring the birds of the Eastern United States, was hailed as a masterpiece not only for the quality of the drawings but also for the unique Peterson identification system, which uses arrows to highlight distinctive markings and characteristics.

``It seems like an obvious thing to do now, but no nobody had ever done that before,″ Peterson said.

His classic field guide has sold more than 4 million copies in four editions. He subsequently helped create more than 40 guides covering a wide range of natural subjects.

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