Ralph Hoffmann and Roger Tory Peterson:
From
Birds of the Pacific States to A Field Guide to Western Birds

by
Robert Jan 'Roy' van de Hoek
Ballona Institute
322 Culver Boulevard, Suite 317
Playa del Rey, California 90293
2006


Introduction
Ralph Hoffmann and Roger Tory Peterson never met, but it is interesting to contemplate what might have occurred had they crossed paths. They were of two different generations, but they might have become friends. Unfortunately, Ralph Hoffmann died prematurely in 1932, at the age of 61, just as Roger Peterson was beginning to emerge as a recognized bird illustrator. He illustrated and wrote his first guidebook in the 1930s. It covered birds of the eastern U.S.

A few years later, in 1941, Roger Tory Peterson wrote and illustrated a second book on birds, as a geographic sequel, entitled: A Field Guide to the Western Birds. In that 'field guide', he wrote a significant and interesting narrative about Ralph Hoffmann. Roger Tory Peterson wrote these words 9 years after the death of Ralph Hoffmann.

This article will show that Ralph Hoffmann preceded Peterson with his field guide and that he influenced Peterson. Other scientists, naturalists, and birders have been inspired by Hoffmann's book, even more than 60 years after Hoffmann's last book and his death, simply through his good writing, knowledge, and inspiration that he put into his books. My humble contribution with this article is part of a larger project as a comparative biography and history of Ralph Hoffmann, not only in California, but also in Massachusetts. Additionally, two counties, from these two states are being investigated compartively, namely Santa Barbara County and Berkshire County. This project hopes to accomplish a dual comparison at both a national and regional level with a perspective of Ralph Hoffmann toward both native birds and native plants.


Results
The main result of this study is the discovery that the introductory narrative about Ralph Hoffmann evolved with each succeeding edition of Peterson's "field handbook" (1941, 1961, 1990). The first edition of A Field Guide to Western Birds has a preface that is 4 pages in length. Within those 4 pages, there are three sentences that are about Ralph Hoffmann's book.

Presented below are excerpts by Roger Tory Peterson from all three editions regarding his acknowledgement of Ralph Hoffmann's talents, but you will also see displayed a subtle competition that Peterson expressed toward Hoffmann's field handbook. The result is that it elevates the stature of Peterson's own book, so that the public consumer of this book, particularly birders, scientists, and naturalists, would need to buy his book. Ralph Hoffmann's name has been placed in "bold" text to highlight that the use of Hoffmann's name diminishes after the first edition to only one time in the second and third edition. Interestingly and oddly, in the third edition, Peterson used Hoffmann's first name of "Ralph" together with his surname. The first name is also highlighted in "bold" text. Finally, I placed the word "field" and the phrase "pocket size" in bold text to show that Peterson was showing a subtle difference to distinguish his book from Hoffmann's book. However, I think that the Peterson said it appropriately in his first edition, where he wrote that the two books compliment each other. After using both of these books together in the field as practice and with groups of people on tours, it still seems to be the case that these two books compliment each other, particularly in southern California.

1941
"There was already one excellent handbook in use - Hoffmann's Birds of the Pacific States - but this only covered the States of Washington, Oregon, and California, whereas there was hardly a thing that was adequate for most other parts of the West. This guide does not intend to replace Hoffmann's handbook; rather, it could be most effectively used as a companion piece to it. The approach of the two books is quite different. Hoffmann's is especially thorough on the voices and habitats of birds, much more complete than is possible in a book of this size."

1961
"There was already one excellent handbook in use - Hoffmann's Birds of the Pacific States - but this covered only the States of Washington, Oregon, and California, whereas there was hardly a thing that was adequate for most other parts of the West."

1990
"There was already one excellent field handbook in use - Ralph Hoffmann's Birds of the Pacific States - but this covered only the States of Washington, Oregon, and California, whereas there was hardly anything of pocket size that was adequate for most other parts of the West."

A careful perusal shows a greatly abbreviated narrative about Ralph Hoffmann in the second and third edition to only one sentence in length. Whereas in the first edition of 1941, there were four sentences. Secondly, the part of the quotation that discusses that the two handbooks by Hoffmann and Peterson "could be most effectively used as a companion piece" was eliminated by Peterson. Thirdly, the compliment about Hoffmann's talent at description of the voices of the birds and their habitats were completely removed by Peterson. One wonders why of course?


Conclusion and Discussion
A careful perusal of Peterson's narrative of Ralph Hoffmann's 'handbook' shows that he must have been a good field man, in order to know voices and habitats so well, that Roger Peterson was not able to match it in his own 'handbook' of birds. It is a well written and succinct statement from one avocational orinthologist to another avocational ornithologist. Hoffmann was a dedicated naturalist and it is significant that Roger Tory Peterson, as a young man, recognized this quality in Ralph Hoffmann. Other ornithologists, both professional and avocational, have recognized him as well. Both serendipity and deliberate research has resulted in finding various dedications and acknowledgements for Ralph Hoffmann. I am now checking additional books and articles by various authors to see if they have dedicated, acknowledged their writings to Ralph Hoffmann.

Thus far, I have discovered two additional birding books that have acknowledged Ralph Hoffmann in the last 20 years. They are a book on warblers of North America by Dunn and Garrett (1997) and another book on shorebirds of the Pacific Northwest by Paulson (1993). These two books are a clear indication that the importance and influence of Ralph Hoffmann continued into a new generation of birders and that the torch of influence of Ralph Hoffmann lives on.

Wouldn't it be nice to bring Hoffmann's classic 1927 back in print again? As Peterson suggested, his own handbook could "be most effectively used as a companion piece" to Hoffmann's guide. And it would be nice for Hoffmann's classic to be in print for history, nostalgia, and for educators and scientists to utilized for some deep ecology in California. This brief biography and history article forms part of a larger study as a biography and history project into the 'life and times' of Ralph Hoffmann. And it is also a greater project that is being completed in conjunction with a comparative history of birding and floristic field work by Ralph Hoffmann in Berkshire County and Santa Barbara County. There are overtones for understanding environmental history and the history of natural history in Massachusetts and California. In a very real sense, it is an ambitious project of historical geography, the history of ecology, and biogeography of two microcosms in the United States.


Acknowledgements
I acknowledge and dedicate this article to Roger Tory Peterson, for being honest and with integrity in his narrative about Ralph Hoffmann and his Birds of the Pacific States. It is abundantly clear that Roger Tory Peterson followed in the giant footsteps of Ralph Hoffmann, as he made his own field guides for the public to be able to identify and know wild birds.

Bibliography and References Cited
Dunn, Jon and Kimball Garrett. 1997. A Field Guide to Warblers of North America. Peterson Field Guide. Houghton, Boston.
Hoffmann, Ralph. 1927. Birds of the Pacific States (first edition). The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Hoffmann, Ralph. 1955. Birds of the Pacific States (second edition). The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Paulson, Dennis. 1993. Shorebirds of the Pacific Northwest. University of Washington and Seattle Audubon Society.
Peterson, Roger Tory. 1941. A Field Guide to Western Birds (first edition). The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Peterson, Roger Tory. 1961. A Field Guide to Western BIrds (second edition). Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.
Peterson, Roger Tory. 1990. A Field Guide to Western Birds (third edition). Houghton-Mifflin Company, Boston.

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