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Bill Thompson, III Biography

Bill Thompson, III is the editor of Bird Watcher's Digest, the popular bimonthly magazine that has been published by his family since 1978. An avid bird watcher since the age of eight, Bill knew that birds would someday become the focus of his life.

His interest in birds was sparked when he saw a snowy owl in the front yard of his family's home in Pella, Iowa. Bill later identified the bird using an ancient Chester A. Reed field guide his parents had. Intrigued by the other birds depicted in the guide, Bill began searching the nearby woods for cardinals, blue jays, and woodpeckers.

Bill's start in bird watching

When the Thompson family moved to Marietta, Ohio, Bill's mom, Elsa, joined a local bird-watching club. The club allowed kids to come on one Friday field trip a month, and soon young Bill was spotting and identifying birds right along with the adults.

Bill continued bird watching through his school years, despite the teasing and joking from classmates and coaches. When Bill and Elsa Thompson decided to start a magazine, the family's increasing interest in birds seemed a natural topic for the publication. Bird Watcher's Digest was launched in the Thompson's family room in September of 1978. Even though he was just a 10th grader, Bill knew that he'd someday work for the family business.

After graduating from Western College at Miami University of Ohio with a bachelor of philosophy degree, Bill worked as a professional musician in Columbus, Ohio, and as a senior account executive at the advertising firm of Ogilvy & Mather in New York. He joined the staff of Bird Watcher's Digest in May 1988. In January of 1995, he became the magazine's editor, a position he still holds today.

Bill is the author of numerous books on birds and bird watching, including his most recent book, The Young Birder's Guide to Birds of Eastern North America (Houghton Mifflin, 2008). Part of the legendary Peterson Field Guide series, The Young Birder's Guide was created with the help of Bill's daughter Phoebe's elementary school class.

The result is a field guide for kids developed by kids that's both interesting to read and useful in the field. Bill hopes that the book will give today's young people (ages 8 and up) an easy and enjoyable entry into the world of birds and nature. Connecting kids with the natural world via bird watching is a wonderful alternative to their spending too much time in front of the computer, game console, or TV.

Bill's Books

His other books (as author) include:

  • Bird Watching For Dummies, part of the popular For Dummies series (John Wiley & Sons, 1997)
  • Identify Yourself: The 50 Most Common Birding Identification Challenges (Houghton Mifflin, 2005)
  • Bird Watching: A Year-Round Guide, 18 titles covering southeastern and midwestern states (Cool Springs Press, 2004)

His books (as editor) include:

  • All Things Reconsidered: My Birding Adventures by Roger Tory Peterson (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)

Bill has written several popular booklets for backyard bird watchers, including The Backyard Bird Watcher's Answer Guide and An Identification Guide to Backyard Birds. Bill edits the Backyard Booklet Series for Bird Watcher's Digest. This series includes 15 titles and has sold more than 5 million copies since its inception.

Bill's articles on birds and birding have appeared in many books, including Natural Gardening for Birds (Rodale Organic Living Press, 2001); Fifty Places to Go Birding Before You Die (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 2007); Good Birders Don't Wear White (Houghton Mifflin, 2007), Once in a Lifetime Trips (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 2008); and periodicals, including National Gardening, Cooking Light, and Bottom Line Personal.

His lighthearted and thought-provoking blog, Bill of the Birds, on the Bird Watcher's Digest website, attracts nearly 1,000 daily readers from all over the world. Read it here >>

Bill Thompson, III is a skilled birder, a rara avis who likes people just as much as he likes birds. A crack "shot" with a spotting scope, he can get a jumpy warbler in his sights before you can say "It just flew!" It is his great delight and special talent to treat other bird watchers to up-close views of hard-to-see birds. Outgoing and funny, Bill enlivens bird walks and programs at birding festivals with his not-so-dry humor and ever-present guitar. Not surprisingly, he's in constant demand both as an entertainer and trip leader at festivals across the country. He has given keynote presentations at more than 100 such events since 1998.

Bill is a frequent guest on bird and nature radio shows and often serves as a consultant on editorial projects, on birding ecotourism programs, and on product development for the birding industry.

He is a founding director of the Ohio Ornithological Society and a longtime member of the American Birding Association. He has served since 2006 as a member of the Birding Roundtable, which consults with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on making National Wildlife Refuges more bird- and birder-friendly. He is also the founder of the Whipple Bird Club.

He has trekked to many of the world's great birding hotspots, including sites in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Central and South America. But some of his favorite bird watching is done near home, on the 80-acre farm in the rolling, wooded hills outside of Whipple, Ohio, that he shares with his wife, artist/author Julie Zickefoose, and their children, Phoebe and Liam.

When he is not playing with his children or watching birds, Bill likes to play guitar with his (locally) popular band, The Swinging Orangutangs, which includes his wife Julie.