Charles Walcott

  • Position(s): Guest talent, consultant.

From Charles Walcott — 3/25/2000

I have many fond memories of WGBH in the early days. While I was in college I worked with Mary Lela Grimes on Discovery. We had many adentures including filling the studio with flying bats so that astute observers watching Louis Lyons and the News just following Discovery would have seen bats swooping past as he read the news! Since then I’ve done a variety of things including a stint on 3, 2, 1 Contact for the Childrens Television Workshop. I’m now a professor of biology at Cornell. My Web site is

Charles’ Cornell Biography

Charles Walcott is Professor of Neurobiology and Behavior. He obtained his PhD in zoology from Cornell in 1959 followed by a postdoctoral fellowship in Biology at Harvard. He joined the Harvard faculty in the Division of Engineering and Applied Physics in 1961. In 1965-67, he was Director of the Elementary Science Study, a national curriculum effort to improve the teaching of science in elementary schools. He then moved to Tufts University for 2 years before joining the faculty of the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1967. During 1979-80, he served as Content Director for the television series 3-2-1 Contact at the Children’s Television Workshop. In 1981 he became Director of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and Professor of Neurobiology and Behavior. He retired as the Louis Aggasiz Fuertes Director of the Laboratory in 1995 to return to teaching and research. In 1998 he became Director of the Division of Biology, and with the dissolution of the Division in 1999, became Chair of the new Department of Neurobiology and Behavior.

Research Interests

Male Common Loons, Gavia immer, produce a territorial vocalization called the “yodel”. Using a banded population of Loons, we have been analyzing tape recorded yodels to measure in which ways the yodels differ between males and how consistent these variations are from year to year. We have developed a statistical model that allows us to recognize an individual male within the population. Yodels differ greatly between loon populations and there is a general geographic trend as well.

This year, one of the banded loons was replaced by an intruder. We sucessfully recorded the yodel of this loon both before and after it was displaced. Surprisingly its yodel changed dramatically. Furthermore, the yodel of the bird that replaced it also changed although less dramatically. This result makes us wonder if loons might change their yodels when they change their territories.

Honey Bees can detect the magnetic field of the earth. But little is known about the magnetic field receptor. By combining field training experiments with orientation cages in the laboratory, I hope to learn something about which aspects of the earth’s magnetic field are important for orientation and to try to begin the search for the receptor.

(For a fuller telling of the “bats” story, see Peter and Lilly Hollander’s profile)

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