Remembering Ruth Pfeffer

News // August 30, 2022

Ruth Pfeffer, a longtime friend of FOW whose excitement and passion for birding was irresistible, passed away in May at the age of 80. The owner of Birding with Ruth, she was always ready to share her extensive knowledge about bird characteristics, from calls to migration patterns, by giving lectures and leading bird/nature walks for FOW and other groups to make birding accessible to has many people as she could. It wasn’t only her knowledge of birds that captivated people, but her welcoming personality and enthusiasm as well.

According to the Chestnut Hill Local, Ruth “took her first formal birding class decades ago at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in upper Roxborough, where she met one of many mentors.” She later began teaching classes at the Schuylkill Center herself, and throughout her decades of birding, mentored and encouraged numerous young birders throughout the region.

An accomplished bird photographer, Ruth generously shared her photos with FOW; they can be found in many FOW publications and digital communications. In addition to leading bird walks for FOW, Ruth founded the birding program at the Morris Arboretum, where she was an instructor. In the 1980s, she contributed to the Pennsylvania Breeding Bird Atlas Project, which surveyed the number and types of breeding birds in the Commonwealth, and established Birding with Ruth. Beginning in the 1990s, Ruth led birding expeditions throughout the Mid-Atlantic region and abroad.

These memories of Ruth capture just some of what made her as rare as some of the birds she loved:

I was on the patio at the Valley Green Inn with a group listening to Ruth speak about the return of the bald eagle to our area, and as if on cue, an eagle flew down and swooped the creek—right in front of our eyes! She inspired so many folks—and that’s part of her legacy—to buy binoculars and get on their own path to birding.

I never had a conversation with Ruth that wasn’t joyous and boisterous, and she communicated that enthusiasm to everyone she met. We are grateful to have known and been educated by her; we will miss her greatly.

—Ruffian Tittmann, FOW Executive Director

I remember first meeting Ruth at a fall birding walk near Bells Mill Road and Forbidden Drive. When Ruth arrived, she quickly got the group’s attention, and we began the walk. During that chilly fall morning, we saw tons of migrants stocking up on food to continue their trip to their winter locations. I was amazed by Ruth’s knowledge of birds and no-nonsense demeanor. She helped me learn how to identify several warbler species while in the field and encouraged me to continue my ornithological journey.

—Troy Bynum, wildlife photographer and bird enthusiast, who features photos of birds and other local animals as host of Wildlife Wednesdays on FOW’s Instagram page.

I went on three birding trips with Ruth – two to Belize and one to Costa Rica. She was a wonderful tour leader. The local guides she organized were fantastic. Even in these foreign lands, she amazed them with her knowledge and her ear. Ruth could hear just two sounds from a bird and recognize (and imitate) it. When you’re in the jungles of Belize and Costa Rica, they are different birds entirely, but she had learned them. She never wrote down the birds we saw, she just remembered them.

—Shirley Gracie, former FOW Board Member