William Henry Thompson III
William Henry Thompson III, of Whipple, Ohio, was taken by pancreatic cancer on March 25, 2019. He was born March 3, 1962, in Pella, Iowa, and spent his early years in a rickety farmhouse with room to roam. His family spent nine glorious years in Pella with many dear friends. It’s said that Billy’s first word was “junco,” and the first bird he remembered seeing through binoculars at age six was a snowy owl.
The Thompsons moved to Marietta, Ohio, in 1971; Bill’s dad (Bill Thompson, Jr.) went to work at Marietta College, and his mom Elsa joined a local bird watching group, the Betsey Birders. Over time, Bill and his brother Andy’s interest in birds surged, and their weekly bird watching excursions with Marietta Times nature columnist Pat Murphy enhanced their skills tremendously.
In 1978, the family launched Bird Watcher’s Digest in their living room on Warren Street with family friend Bill Sheppard. Elsa’s passion for birds combined with her husband’s journalism background made the magazine a success. Bill III graduated from Marietta High School in 1980, with the Lt. Richard N. Christy Leadership award for many accomplishments, including his work as editor of the school newspaper and his service as President of the Marietta High School Band.
Bill’s parents (Bill Thompson Jr. and Elsa Ekenstierna Thompson) met at Marietta College when Elsa auditioned as a singer for his band. Music was in young Bill’s blood; among his earliest memories was sitting on the stairs, listening to his parents and family friends playing live music in the living room below. With the encouragement of legendary musician (and unofficial uncle) Bruce DeMoll, Bill took up bass, later switching to guitar. His most successful bands were The New Chameleons, The Swinging Orangutangs and The Rain Crows. Bill produced and recorded the Rain Crows’ second CD, Dream of Flying Dream, in 2013.
Bill graduated in 1984 with a B.A. in philosophy from Western College at Miami University. His junior year, spent in London, made Bill a world citizen and fanned his lust for travel. After returning home and completing his studies at Miami, he worked part time in restaurants and played bass in a Columbus band. An invitation to a press trip to Israel in 1985 introduced Bill to the larger world of birding. He moved to New York, working as an event planner for Ogilvie and Mather. During his three years there, he earned the nickname “Thumper.” In 1998, Bill joined Bird Watcher’s Digest at its Baltimore office, where he learned the art of editing from longtime Editor Mary Beacom Bowers.
Bill met natural history writer/artist Julie Zickefoose at the World Series of Birding in May 1991, and they were married in 1993. They relocated from Baltimore to Whipple around that time, building a birding tower atop their home. Daughter Phoebe Linnea was born in 1996; William Henry Thompson IV (Liam) followed in 1999.
Bill wrote books from home while editing and publishing BWD, including The New Birder’s Guide to Birds of North America; Identify Yourself; Bird Homes and Habitats; Identifying and Feeding Birds; Bird Watching for Dummies;; and All Things Reconsidered: My Birding Adventures by Roger Tory Peterson, which he edited. His blog, Bill of the Birds, was succeeded by the popular birding podcasts This Birding Life and Out There With the Birds. Bill and his brother/partner Andy worked together at BWD to develop and market a best-selling Backyard Booklet Series with sixteen titles.
Bill continued expanding the mission of Bird Watcher’s Digest, hosting the Midwest Birding Symposium and creating the American Birding Expo in 2014. He had a knack for creating community among BWD subscribers and especially for encouraging newcomers and children to take up bird watching. Under his vision, BWD Reader Rendezvous have taken subscriber tours to 11 states and six foreign countries since 2014. Bill launched Redstart Birding, an optics, equipment and expertise venture, in 2018. All the while, he traveled tirelessly, speaking, guiding and giving the gift of music to birding festivals throughout the U.S. and the world. Aided by his supportive and hardworking staff at BWD, Bill was at full strength as a leader and force in the birding world when he was struck down.
Alongside birdwatching and music, Bill was a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and passed his undying love for the team and game along to Phoebe. He was a grilling virtuoso who loved to fire up the charcoal for gatherings of friends and family. He also found great joy in starting up his Massey Ferguson (when it cooperated), building fires and roasting hotdogs and s’mores with Liam, and cracking open several Heinekens at the end of a long day.
His awards include a Service Citizen Award from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; a Moonlight Book Medal for The New Birder’s Guide to Birds of North America; and a Nichee Award for Best Consumer Hobbyist Magazine from Niche Magazine. In 2009, he was nominated for a Heart of Green Award for fighting nature deficit disorder in children. Bill received the American Birding Association’s Robert Ridgway Award for Excellence in Ornithological Publications, followed by their Roger Tory Peterson Award for Promoting the Cause of Birding, given and eloquently received by Bill on the morning of his passing.
Bill Thompson III is survived by his wife, Julie Zickefoose, of Whipple; his children, Phoebe Linnea and William Henry (Liam); his beloved partner, Wendy Clark; his mother, Elsa Ekenstierna Thompson; his brother, Andrew Miller Thompson; his sister, Laura Thompson Dauber; his sister-in-law Jade Daniel Thompson; his brother-in-law Wlliam Dauber; his niece, Annalea Thompson; his nephews Nathaniel and August Thompson; and nephew John David (Jake) Rudie. He was preceded in death by his father, William Henry Thompson Jr.; his grandfathers, William Henry Thompson and Harvey Conrad Ekenstierna; grandmothers Margaret Miller Thompson and Anna Scott Ekenstierna; his great aunt Laura Katherine Miller and great uncle, Luther Conrad Miller.
A green burial on Bill’s Whipple homestead will be followed by visiting hours from 3-6 pm Saturday, March 30, at McClure-Schafer-Lankford Funeral Home, 314 4th Street, Marietta, Ohio. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Bill Thompson Youth Birding Trust of the Marietta Community Foundation (mcfohio.org).