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THE WHOOPING CRANE REPORT: 24 Special Memorial Tribute

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Bruce is holding the 1st crane chick (a greather sandhill) ever produced from frozen semen. 1978, Photo by George Gee, USGS

 Bruce is holding the 1st crane chick (a greater sandhill) ever produced from frozen semen. 1978 Photo by George Gee, USGS

In 1986, Bruce stands besides a shipping crate with a whooping crane in it as they prepare the bird for transfer to another facility, FWS Photo

In 1986, Bruce stands besides a shipping crate with a whooping crane in it as they prepare the bird for transfer to another facility.
FWS photo


Bruce was very involved in the eagle breeding program which produced chicks for release. Here he's holding an adult bird for the annual health check, FWS Photo

Bruce was very involved in the eagle breeding program which produced chicks for release. Here he's holding an adult bird for the annual health check.
FWS photo

Bruce also worked in the original veterinary hospital. Equipment like this helped analyze samples taken from the birds during the annual health checks, FWS Photo

Bruce also worked in the original veterinary hospital. Equipment like this helped analyze samples taken from the birds during the annual health checks.
FWS photo

Dr. George Gee (kneeling) works with an Andean Condor to develop an artificial insemination program that might someday be used on California Condors. Paul Tritiak and Bruce (standing) assist him. The research done on Andean Condors at Patuxent was pivotal in the California Condor recovery. FWS Photo, 1986

Dr. George Gee (kneeling) works with an Andean Condor to develop an artificial insemination program that might someday be used on California Condors. Paul Tritiak and Bruce (standing) assist him. The research done on Andean Condors at Patuxent was pivotal in the California Condor recovery.
FWS photo, 1986

Bruce raised the very first whooper chicks hatched at Patuxent. He shared his valuable experience and was always available to consult with on a task he considered vital to the program, FWS Photo, 1971

Bruce raised the very first whooper chicks hatched at Patuxent. He shared his valuable experience and was always available to consult with on a task he considered vital to the program.
 
FWS photo, 1971

Remembering Bruce 

The Patuxent Wildlife Research Center is not a huge facility. So, fellow workers often become more like family. Recently, our Patuxent family was greatly saddened to lose a pivotal member of our team. 

Bruce Williams wore many hats in the years he spent at Patuxent. He came here as a wildlife technician from the National Zoo in 1966 to work with the Endangered Species research program. Initially, Bruce worked with mammals like Siberian polecats and black-footed ferrets when Patuxent was working on their recovery plans. He didn't know that the focus of his work would soon change, to be dominated by a five-foot tall white crane hovering on the brink of extinction. 

But Bruce rose to the challenge. He raised some of the first whoopers that were hatched at Patuxent-birds that lived to become the core of the early breeding colony. Cranes weren't the only birds being studied here then. Bruce also cared for a breeding colony of endangered Andean Condors and was involved in research that helped save the California Condor. Bruce also cared for a large breeding colony of bald eagles, and helped produce chicks that were placed in the wild nests of infertile pairs. Bruce and his crew helped place eagles in states that had not had produced young birds in twenty years. 

Bruce didn't just care for and raise the endangered species and the surrogates that were part of the endangered species research program. He was largely responsible for the design and construction of extensive animal facilities, including large predator-proof pens for cranes, flight cages for eagles and condors, automatic watering systems, feed shelters and shade shelters. He planted countless shade trees, designed and constructed netted coverings for crane flight pens, and worked hard at maintaining these extensive facilities. Bruce worked here long enough that his original structures - composed of chicken wire and other traditional materials - eventually had to be replaced. When they did, he constructed those replacements with longer lasting materials like chain link fencing, always conscious of the needs of the animals that would be housed there. Our chain link crane pens don't have a top support bar like most fencing, since that would encourage avian predators to perch there. The trees selected for shade had to have a certain crown structure, again, so as not to give avian predators an easy roost. Our crane chick rearing facilities had originally been used for other species. Those buildings were remodeled for the crane chicks, with improvements based on Bruce's experience in rearing chicks. He'd learned the hard way what would make the work easier, and employed it whenever possible. Today, any pen that houses a crane at Patuxent has had Bruce's hands on it. 

Bruce also played a significant role as a mentor. For over 20 years he worked with groups of young students who were part of the Youth Conservation Corp. We featured a report on the YCC's the year they constructed the pens with large ponds in them that we use to introduce our whoopers to the right kind of environment. (Link back to YCC report.) Bruce and his YCCs would tackle large projects and while accomplishing them, he would teach his young workers valuable lessons in team building, work ethics, and environmental education. The YCC program also arranged for field trips for the students, exposing them to the beauty and importance of wilderness, and an understanding of the importance of science and research in the working world. Many of Bruce's nearly 200 YCC students would come back to Patuxent as seasoned workers in following years, and would go on to careers in the environmental sciences and on refuges. 

Bruce also counseled many of the technicians, caretakers, and aides he supervised in their developing careers. Among those are people now working as refuge managers and in other endangered species breeding programs that consider Bruce a strong factor in their career choices. Some of them have even come back to Patuxent, bringing the experience Bruce shared early in their careers full-circle. 

Eventually, Bruce would become responsible for the care, construction, and maintenance of most of the research and animal facilities at Patuxent. When new solutions to new problems were needed, Bruce was one of the first people to be consulted. His experience was invaluable, and his solutions often the simplest. During the big snowfall we had in February, we thought the flight nets over the cranes might have be to cut to prevent the weight of the snow from collapsing the pens. Cutting the nets was a difficult, expensive proposition that would be stressful to the birds. We consulted with Bruce, who told us to lower the supporting cables instead and leave the nets intact. It would be the weight of the snow on the support cables - which could not stretch - that would force the collapse of the pens. He showed the crew how to lower the cables, and how to raise them back again once the snow was past. It was still a lot of work, but a much simpler and less disruptive solution. 

It's impossible to briefly summarize all that Bruce accomplished here in nearly 40 years. For those of us who worked with him, it's equally as hard to imagine a breeding season at Patuxent without his expert attention to the incubators, his practical solutions to problems we've yet to experience, and his interest and enthusiasm for the next YCC project. For all his friends at Patuxent, it's a loss both intensely personal and yet professional. 

With all the different responsibilities Bruce held here over the years, his first love remained with endangered species research. His support for the crane program was unwavering and he felt a shared joy in its successes. We have to believe he's still supporting us, just on a different plane. 

We would like to extend our deepest sympathies to Bruce's wife and two daughters. He is greatly missed.

Please check our site on May 8th for a web page update.  

See our Crane Videos!


BREEDING SEASON UPDATE!

After all the snow the crane crew had to cope with this winter, they began to think spring would never arrive. But it's finally here. For the folks who work with the cranes, spring isn't really here until the first whooper egg of the season arrives. Whooper pair 02-84003 and 02-85001 laid the first egg of the season on Sunday, March 23rd, and it was soon followed by the second egg of the season, delivered by Laz and Alta on Monday morning, March 24th. Both eggs are fertile! We've had 8 more eggs since then for a current total of 10. Unfortunately, 1 egg was found broken. There are currently 6 producing females in the flock. Watch this space for weekly updates every Wednesday.


Check out the Whooping Crane Conservation Association's revamped website! It has current flock information and other interesting news items:

http://whoopingcrane.com/wccaflockstatus.htm 

Other whooper links can be found on our links page.

Click here to ask questions about Patuxent's whooping crane program.   Please check our site on May 8th for a web page update!  

Whooping Crane Reports

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Other Patuxent Crane Information

U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, 
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA
URL http://whoopers.usgs.gov
Contact: Jonathan Male
Last modified: 04/02/2003
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