ROGER TORY PETERSON, the man who made bird watching popular in America, is back in business. He has revised his classic field guide to the birds, making it competitive with the hitherto more useful Golden Field Guide, Birds of North America.

The revisions in this fourth edition are numerous and welcome:

Peterson has redrawn all the illustrations, and enlarged many of them; he has added illustrations of accidental, exotic and escaped birds.

All the illustrations now are in color; gone are those frustrating black-and-white drawings of loons and grebes and auks and gulls.

The text now faces the illustration; gone is the annoying need to flip and flop to see and read.

Range maps, drawn by Virginia Marie Peterson, the author's wife, have been added to show where birds can be found in winter and summer or all year.

Peterson has rewritten much of the text, although not as wittily or interestingly as the authors of the relatively new Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds .

Peterson has come a long way and taken a lot of us birders (the preferred term these days for bird watchers) with him and his inestimable identification system. As he notes in the introduction to his newest edition, there were only four plates in color and 26 in black and white in his first edition in 1934. Now, there are 136 full-color plates.

Three final notes -- Peterson defends his use of drawings rather than photographs and I agree with him; he has made his "Systematic Checklist" far easier to use for recording bird sightings; and he has greatly improved his short illustrated lesson on how to identify birds.

In sum, Roger Tory Peterson's fourth edition is as significant for old and new birders as was his first edition.