Bird Observer: The Birding Journal for New England

Bird Observer

The Birding Journal for New England

October 2015

Vol. 43, No. 5

Birdwatching, Observation-based Field Ornithology, and the Conservation Movement

William E. Davis, Jr.

The Influence of Ludlow Griscom and Roger Tory Peterson


Fig. 1. Ludlow Griscom with his binoculars, symbolizing leadership in the sight-identification of birds. Photograph from Ludlow Griscom, Virtuoso of Field Identification by Edwin Way Teal, 1945, Audubon Magazine 47:349-358.

Three areas of interest in birds—avocational birdwatching (birding), field- based scientific ornithology, and conservation—have evolved substantially since the 19th century. Each developed in parallel to the others, each was influenced by the development of the others, and there was considerable overlap among the three. To begin this historical discussion, I assess the blurred distinction between “amateur” and “professional” ornithologists, and how these two classes of people who are interested in birds have interacted as birding, observation-based field ornithology, and the conservation movement of the 20th century in North America evolved. To narrow the focus I have chosen to emphasize the roles of two individuals in this drama: Ludlow Griscom and Roger Tory Peterson. Both were New England residents for substantial parts of their careers, and both played significant roles in the development of all three areas, locally and nationally.

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