THE WHOOPING CRANE REPORT: 24 Special Memorial Tribute
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
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.
Bruce also worked in the original veterinary hospital.
Equipment like this helped analyze samples taken from the birds during the
annual health checks.
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
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.
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
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
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
We would like to extend our deepest sympathies to Bruce's wife and two
daughters. He is greatly missed.
See our Crane Videos!
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:
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
Hatch Day (Click on numbered links to view all other egg (negative numbers) and chick days).