USGS USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center

Charles Shafer--Crane Technician

Charlie Shafer is ready to get some heavy work done with Patuxent's tractor. Photo by Kathleen O'Malley, USGS.

Charlie Shafer is ready to get some heavy work done with Patuxent's tractor.

Photo by Kathleen O'Malley, USGS.


I have worked at Patuxent as a biological technician for 2 years. After graduating from Millersville University in 2001 with a BS in ecology, I took an internship at the International Crane Foundation in Wisconsin. In the fall of 2003, I interned with Operation Migration to teach whooping cranes a new migration route from Wisconsin to Florida.

At Patuxent, my responsibilities include opening up unhatched crane eggs to determine if the eggs were fertile or not. If we decide the egg was fertile, we try to estimate how old the embryo was when it died. At the end of each breeding season, during the winter months, I measure the egg shell thickness of all the whooping crane eggs that were laid the previous season.

During the breeding season, I help raise Whooping crane chicks for the WCEP migration project, for the non-migratory project in central Florida, and for breeding stock. I also help with the early ultralight training of the WCEP chicks. It’s neat to see the chicks' progress from when they are small and following the trike on the ground, to when they are grown and first start flying behind the ultralight. I continue helping with husbandry and training as the birds go to Wisconsin and then are led to Florida. I usually spend many weeks on the road helping with the ground crew on the migration itself.

When I’m not busy working with the cranes, I service and maintain our fleet of field mowers and heavy equipment. This can be a daunting task, especially in the fall when we mow all 200+ crane pens, some of them twice, before the winter months.

My favorite season is early spring, when everything is just awakening from its winter sleep. The days are still cool, but not cold. All the spiders start building their webs on the fences of the crane pens and the morning dew collects on the webs. It’s very peaceful and relaxing to walk through the pen series checking the birds each morning. It’s the last calm time before the hectic days of the breeding season begin.