Almanac: Roger Tory Peterson

Almanac: A birdwatching trailblazer
Almanac: A birdwatching trailblazer 02:06

And now a page from our “Sunday Morning” Almanac: August 28th, 1908, 108 years ago today ... a day for birdwatchers everywhere to celebrate.

From the archive: Roger Tory Peterson 07:29

For that was the day writer, painter and naturalist Roger Tory Peterson was born in Jamestown, New York.

A lover of birds from boyhood, Peterson believed he could improve on the overly-technical bird watching manuals of the time:

“It soon became evident that it was possible to identify almost any bird if you knew 1, 2, or 3 things to look for on each bird -- in other words, the field marks, as we called them,” he told CBS News back in 1980.

Still in his twenties, Peterson wrote and illustrated his own “Field Guide to the Birds.”  It was published in 1934.

Artwork by Roger Tory Peterson. Peterson Field Guides

Only 2,000 copies were printed and, Peterson recalled, he was to receive no royalty on the first 1,000 sold.  “But for some reason the field guide just took off immediately, and was literally sold out within a week,” he said.

When “Sunday Morning” visited him at his Connecticut home in 1980, Peterson was busy refining his bird paintings ... confident that they were truer, in their way, than photographs:

“One of the differences between a photograph and a painting is that a photograph is a record of a split second -- that moment -- and the painter gives a composite of his experience,” he said.

That very same year, 1980, President Jimmy Carter awarded Peterson the Presidential Medal of Freedom … appropriate since freedom is exactly what Peterson envied about his subjects:

“Originally I suppose I react to the birds because they were wonderful creatures.  They can fly, go where they wanted to when they wanted to, and I wish that I could do that!”

Roger Tory Peterson died in 1996, a month shy of his 88th birthday.

His “Field Guides” are still in print, and still cherished by birdwatchers everywhere.

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