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Roger Tory Peterson, leader in bird watching

Roger Tory Peterson, a modern-day John James Audubon who turned millions of Americans into bird watchers with his easy-to-use field guides, has died at age 87.

Mr. Peterson, who died Sunday after a mild stroke several months ago, combined artistic talent with a lifelong scientific interest in birds.

During his 60-year career, 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."

Mr. Peterson was among the world's most knowledgeable bird watchers.

"I can recognize the calls of practically every bird in North America," he once said. "There are some in Africa I don't know, though."

A seventh-grade science teacher first encouraged him to draw birds and apply his talent for detail, said Mr. Peterson, who had no formal scientific training.

Mr. Peterson, who studied at the Art Student League in New York City and the National Academy of Design, was teaching art and science in Massachusetts when an editor of Audubon magazine asked him about doing a pocket guide for bird watchers.

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

He subsequently helped create more than 40 guides covering a wide range of natural subjects.

"I consider myself to have been the bridge between the shotgun and the binoculars in bird watching," Mr. Peterson said. "Before I came along, the primary way to observe birds was to shoot them and stuff them."

He is survived by his wife, Virginia, who did the detailed maps in his guide books; two sons; a sister; two step-daughters; and three grandchildren.