William “Bill” Pulliam passed away, surrounded by family at age 56 on August 23, 2017, after an unforeseen and brief struggle with lung cancer. Bill’s sudden death came as a shock to friends and family around the country, who held a deep respect for Bill’s resounding brilliance and knowledge of the natural world. Anyone meeting Bill for the first time could have easily mistaken him for a leading expert in the field of ornithology, geology, astronomy, ecology, botany, history, or philosophy, only to later learn that he was an expert in them all.
Alhough his PhD was in Ecology, Bill was renowned nation-wide for his contributions to the study and understanding of America’s wild birds. For the last decade Bill worked tirelessly to promote eBird, a website where birders both in his home state of Tennessee and beyond submit their sightings. Bill gave countless volunteer hours to eBird as an observer, an exemplary regional editor, and mentor to new regional editors. Bill’s passing is a huge loss to the Tennessee birding community, and indeed to the global eBird community.
In 2015, Bill and his sister, Joan, each made a significant donation to Swan Trust’s capital campaign for Big Swan Headwaters Preserve. Bill later told me that forests in the Cane Creek area around his home were being logged. He and Joan wanted to contribute to forest preservation and chose Swan Trust as an organization with an appropriate mission. Bill led an early-morning bird walk on the Preserve, just two months prior to his passing. We had no clue that he would be gone so soon after that walk.
I consider Bill one of my most important mentors on the subject of birds and birdsongs. We spent countless early mornings in the woods, listening for warblers and other neotropical migratory songbirds, as they arrived and began setting up breeding territories on The Farm and Big Swan Headwaters Preserve. In recognition of Bill’s lasting legacy with his friends and colleagues across Tennessee, I am establishing the Bill Pulliam Memorial Fund to promote education of children about our native birds. He will be greatly missed by all, and our hearts go out to his family and friends.
The Bill Pulliam Memorial Fund
The Swan Trust group who joined Bill Pulliam (front left with binoculars) on June 16, 2017