When the country's most ardent bird watchers turned
out to make their annual Christmas Bird Count, most of them armed themselves
with pocket bird guides written and illustrated by Roger Tory Peterson. These
guides are the bibles of American amateur ornithologists, just as Peterson is
the high priest of the bird-watching fraternity. To the envy of bird watchers
everywhere, Peterson holds the record of having seen more kinds of North
American birds in a single year—572—than any other watcher at any time, and his
powers of identification are uncanny. He not only knows the songs of birds but
also their chip notes (noises other than songs). Even blindfolded, he can name
the birds about him if they are making sounds. Peterson became interested in
birds when he was 11, has been studying them and painting them ever since. On
the following pages Peterson has painted for SI the birds he would seek most
eagerly in different parts of the U.S. on a Christmas census—some chosen
because they are rare, others for their beauty.
PINE GROSBEAK: "Although not a rare bird, the pine
grosbeak invades the Northeast area in erratic waves. It was observed in large
numbers last year."
SPOT-BREASTED ORIOLE: "The pi�ce de r�sistance in
the Miami region of Florida, this bird mysteriously appeared there from Central
America in August 1949."
BOHEMIAN WAXWING: "This winter visitor from Alaska
and the Canadian northwest cannot be depended upon. I personally haven't seen
one east of Denver."
WHITE-TAILED KITE: "A lovely, hawklike bird, it
has become rare in the U.S. This would be my most looked-for species in central
and southern California."
APLOMADO FALCON: "Now all but vanished from the
U.S., this falcon is what I would most like to find along the border from the
Rio Grande to Arizona."
EUROPEAN WIDGEON: "A small population of them,
believed to come from Iceland, elects to spend the winter on the Atlantic
seaboard instead of in Europe."
CATTLE EGRET: "A newcomer from the Old World, it
is now spreading out rapidly and will probably be seen in the Gulf states from
Florida to Texas."
SMITH'S LONGSPUR: "This rather plain little bird
winters on the southern Great Plains and is one of the few North American birds
which I have never seen."
THREE-TOED WOODPECKER: "This is the bird I would
make an effort to see in Canadian evergreen forests. Unlike most other male
woodpeckers it has a yellow cap."