American Birding Podcast



A Dozen Things You Can Do to Celebrate Bill Thompson III


These are my friend Bill Thompson III’s shoes. Actually, this is just the tip of his footwear iceberg—he owned and wore a lot of shoes. I photographed these as they sat by his front door the day after I, along with members of his family, watched him fly free of his cancer-ravaged body. Bill’s are shoes that cannot ever be filled, just like the hole that his too-early death has left in the hearts of so many birders.

My social media feeds, like yours I’ll bet, are overflowing with tributes and expressions of gratitude and grief. And sadness. So much sadness.

But when it comes to mourning, Bill definitely preferred doves, warblers, and wheatears to tears. And though he was very thoughtful, Bill had a clear bias for rolling up his sleeves and getting things done.

So today I’m going to offer you a list of a dozen things you can do–and really should do, in my opinion–to celebrate his life and all he gave to us and to the birds, places, and people he so abundantly loved.

1. Read his obituary from his hometown newspaper, lovingly penned by Julie Zickefoose, especially if you’re not fully familiar with his life and work. Then donate to the Bill Thompson Youth Birding Trust of the Marietta Community Foundation in his memory.

2. Clean someone else’s binoculars, a trademark BT3 way of caring for birders and for our community and showing respect for both. In so doing, you will literally help others see more birds and have more fun, as Bill was fond of saying. Plus, lens cleaning is far less messy than washing someone’s feet and demonstrates real concern and humility in just as powerful a way. And as an act of self-care, clean your own binoculars, too.

3. Tell a really funny joke. Better yet, tell a whole bunch of them in rapid succession, as if you are a mockingbird suddenly able to do standup comedy. Bonus points if the jokes are a just a wee bit more juvenile than one would expect from someone of your age, intelligence, and overall level of achievement, but still bring the house down. Best and most difficult of all, find your own jokes so funny that you dissolve in fits of helpless, red-faced, teary-eyed giggling several times on the way to each punchline and yet still manage to make everyone else laugh when you finally get there, as well as all along the way.

4. Give someone a copy of Bill’s book, The New Birder’s Guide to Birds of North America, especially a young person. Spend copious amounts of time with them, more than you really probably ought to given your work schedule, getting them excited about birds and birding with as much contagious enthusiasm as you can muster and even a little more, while always making the recipient feel that there is nothing more important to you or that you’d rather be doing than helping them get launched into this exciting new world. If you do it like Bill did it, that will be the truth.

5. If you are within even remotely plausible striking distance of a Gyrfalcon, a bucket list bird for Bill that he never got to see, go see it in his honor! Share your scope view with everyone else there, everyone within earshot, and everyone that you can flag down as they are passing by. If there’s no Gyrfalcon handy, substitute whatever magnificent, rare bird you’ve always wanted to see. If there are no face-melting rarities around, really just about any bird will do. Just don’t forget to share your scope and flag people down. And to also clean their binoculars.

6. Eat and drink good food and beverages with people you love. Tell them that you love them and how much they mean to you between bites and sips.

7. Subscribe to Bird Watcher’s Digest, a very easy and inexpensive way to join a family of interesting, talented people who really like birds.

8. If you are able to play music and sing, do so, preferably with friends. Or listen to music with friends if you can’t play or sing. Also, you can sing, and you really ought to learn to play something, even if it’s just a cowbell.

9. Do something brave and daring and creative and difficult. Don’t worry too much about what other people will think of it or how it will be received. If you must worry at all, worry about not getting all the great things done that you’d like to do, create, or achieve before your time on this planet is over.

10. Today, instead of dazzling people with your skills and talents and expertise, use your powers to help someone else feel more skillful, talented, and expert. I suggest doing it tomorrow and the next day and the day after that, as well. Here’s the bonus: They’ll still be dazzled by you, but you’ll have also helped bring out something good in themselves and they will love and remember you for that forever.

11. Face adversity with as much grace and acceptance as you can muster. And know that if you do the other things on this list, you’ll always have a large network of loving, giving people around you that you can lean on for help when the going gets truly rough, as it sometimes does in this life.

12. Take any of these suggestions, or modify them to suit you, or come up with something of your own to celebrate Bill’s life and keep his legacy flourishing. Just be sure to actually do it. Make it happen. Finally, share it. Let us know in the comments here what it was you did or are committing to do and tag it #BT3 wherever else you share it.

We’ll have more to say and to share about Bill and his life and achievements in the near future. For now, shake off any despair you are feeling and get out there with the birds and birders and do something to help. It’s the best way to honor this remarkable man and his remarkable life.

Two birders having a blast working together: Bill Thompson III and Jeffrey Gordon podcasting, February 23, 2008, photo by Liz Deluna Gordon