A bright light in the birding community has gone dark. Bill Thompson III, the co-publisher and editor of Bird Watcher’s Digest, died last night at his home in Whipple, Ohio. He was only 57. Bill was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in mid-December 2018, and now here we are, just over three months later. In a diminished world.
If you had not followed his story since his diagnosis, I urge you to read his Caring Bridge journal, particularly his March 4 entry about his decision not to continue chemotherapy. Have a tissue or two nearby.
In addition to his work with the magazine — a family business that was founded by his parents — Bill was the author of The New Birder’s Guide to Birds of North America, Bird Homes and Habitats, and other books, and the co-host of the podcast “This Birding Life.” A few years ago, he founded the American Birding Expo, which in 2018 attracted lots of birders and more than 120 exhibitors to Philadelphia. He was also a talented musician.
We here at BirdWatching extend our deepest condolences to Bill’s family and friends and everyone at Bird Watcher’s Digest. Bill’s family has a GoFundMe page that has raised thousands of dollars for his care and other expenses. And the magazine is running an online auction of a Marbled Murrelet painting by British artist Darren Rees, to help offset expenses.
Tributes to Bill, who was affectionately known as BT3, have poured in today.
Sharon Stiteler wrote on her Birdchick blog about her many memories of Bill, including finding Baird’s Sparrow and Sprague’s Pipit in North Dakota, and birding in Israel with Bill and Pete Dunne.
Humorist and writer Allen Batt tweeted:
I am saddened by the death of Bill Thompson III last night. This wonderful editor/publisher of Bird Watcher’s Digest was a friend I will dearly miss. The birds could not have had a better friend or a more influential voice on their behalf. pic.twitter.com/xctAXFLBJf
— Allen Batt (@batt_allen) March 26, 2019
From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:
We're very saddened to learn of the passing of Bill Thompson, III, one of the great birders and birding ambassadors of our time.
— Cornell Lab (@CornellBirds) March 26, 2019
From Tucson Audubon:
The birding world lost one of its brightest, kindness personalities last night. We’ll be filling feeders and admiring birds in his memory today. From everyone at Tucson Audubon, we’re sending condolences to the family of Bill Thompson III. #BilloftheBirds
— Tucson Audubon (@tucsonaudubon) March 26, 2019
From Victor Emanuel:
So very sorry to hear of the passing of Bill Thompson, III, editor of "Bird Watcher's Digest" magazine (@billofthebirds). The birding community has lost a great friend. Our condolences to his family and loved ones.
— Victor Emanuel (@VENTbird) March 26, 2019
From Indiana Audubon:
Birders around the world have lost a legend that introduced and inspired many people to the world of birds and birding. May Bill Thompson III be in the great birding hotspot on the other side. Rest In Peace. https://t.co/u27nKEP2bw
— Indiana Audubon (@IndianaAudubon) March 26, 2019
From American Bird Conservancy:
We're very saddened to learn of the passing of Bill Thompson III (@billofthebirds). He was a beloved member of the birding community and a great advocate for birds.
— American Bird Conservancy (@ABCbirds) March 26, 2019
From the American Birding Association:
Like many in the birding world, we at the ABA are saddened to hear of the death of Bill Thompson III, editor of Bird Watcher's Digest, innovator, birding bon vivant, and friend to so so many.
Our thoughts are with those who knew him best in the coming days. We'll miss you, BT3.
— Amer. Birding Assoc. (@ABA) March 26, 2019
The ABA also said in an email newsletter today: “Bill was a great friend to the ABA, an incredible communicator, and a truly tireless advocate for bird conservation. He leaves a legacy that touches the entire world. We at the ABA are humbled and excited to play a part in extending that legacy, the details of which we will announce in the near future.”
Our “Birder at Large” columnist Pete Dunne, the retired director of the Cape May Bird Observatory, dubbed Thompson “Birding’s Ace.” Pete wrote:
I got to know young Bill Thompson on a promotional trip to Israel orchestrated by SPNI (the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel) in the 1980s. On board were fifty or so ornithologists from across Europe. Bill was one of the small American contingent and the youngest.
His wit, exuberance, and charm quickly made him a favorite in the group — the classic aw-shucks, All-American Kid who steps to the mound in the 9th with the score tied and bases loaded and fans the next three batters.
We’ll miss you this season, Bill, and the next, but your place in our hearts and the birding hall of fame is secure.
Say “Hi” to Roger for me, and hold a place for me on the bench.
And BirdWatching’s former editor, Chuck Hagner, wrote this remembrance:
Among the many pieces of good fortune that editing BirdWatching magazine brought to me over the years, one stands out. I was invited by Terry Moore of Leica to go birding in Brazil’s Atlantic rainforest with Pete Dunne and Bill. The birding was spectacular, of course, but what I remember most fondly was the rare opportunity to spend time away in the company of friends. Terry brought cigars, Pete brought story after story, and Bill brought his endless good cheer — and an arsenal of song lyrics — and we laughed and laughed. One day, Bill and I were walking through a small town in the heat when we came upon not a bird, but a dog squatting along a low wall, eyeing us warily over its shoulder and shifting its weight from paw to paw as it defecated. The moment was rich with possibility, and Bill seized it in an instant. Summoning Simon and Garfunkel, he pointed (as any expert guide would do) and explained to me (as no other could ever do): “In the corner squats a boxer.” I nearly fell down laughing. We both did. And the thought of it makes me smile even on this sad day.
You can read more tributes on Bill’s Facebook page.