In memoriam: Bill Thompson III

Bill Thompson III

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: 

From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

From Tucson Audubon:

From Victor Emanuel:

From Indiana Audubon:

 From American Bird Conservancy:

From the American Birding Association:

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.

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Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall is the editor of BirdWatching magazine and BirdWatchingDaily.com. He joined the staff of BirdWatching (formerly Birder’s World) in 2000 and has worn many hats over the years: reporter, story wrangler, photo editor, managing editor, and now editor. Originally from Omaha, he lives with his wife and two daughters in Milwaukee and holds a Bachelor’s in journalism from Marquette University. You can reach Matt at (617) 706-9098 and [email protected].

Matt Mendenhall on social media