Nicholas Sly holding a bird. Photo provided by Nicholas Sly
Nicholas Sly holding a bird. Photo provided by Nicholas Sly

Dr. Nicholas Sly is an ornithologist and evolutionary biologist who studies the genomics of color patterns in birds. You can find him on Twitter (@nickslybirdguy) where he mostly posts pictures of his adorable cat named Finch.

1 Are you an early bird or night owl?

Early bird

2 Are you pro- or anti-pun?


3 Do you have any pets?

My cat and several geckos

4 Do you have any science-themed home decor?

Illustrations of birds

5 Do you prefer cooking or baking?


6 Do you prefer sweet or savory?


7 Do you speak any other languages?

Spanish, badly

8 If you could switch professions, what would you do?

I would design and write field guides to things that don’t currently have field guides

9 If you could switch science fields, what field would you want to work in?


10 If you got a plane ticket right now, where would it go?


11 If you had one superpower, what would it be?


12 Is there anything you strongly recommend we watch and/or read and/or listen to?

Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee

13 It’s your day off. What do you want to do?

Go find tons of cool things to identify and submit to iNaturalist

14 What are three things you can’t live without?

Books, boots, binoculars

15 What beverage gives you life?

Iced Tea

16 What book did you read in school that positively shaped you?

Silent Spring

17 What did you want to be be when you grew up?

In approximate order: a train engineer, a paleontologist, a zookeeper, a physicist, a wildlife biologist, a birding tour guide, an environmental educator, an ornithologist, a tenure-track biology professor (note: I still don’t feel like I’ve grown up)

18 What drives you and keeps you going?

Honestly, some days I’m not sure. When the depression hits hardest, I think it’s just because I can’t decide what else I’d rather do (even nothing), so I just stick to the routine and keep trudging forward

19 What got you excited in science?

I’ve been running around in the woods chasing birds and salamanders and things since I was about 6 years old, and an interest in science grew out of that.

20 What excites you about science now?

Learning new things

21 What is a guilty pleasure of yours?

Geography quizzes on Sporcle

22 What is a secret talent of yours?

I’m pretty good at identifying things but I don’t exactly keep that talent a secret

23 What is your favorite game?

Exploding Kittens

24 What is the last book you read?

Snow Crash

25 What is one of the best pieces of advice you’ve received?

Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.

26 What is something you’ve always wanted to try but you’ve been too scared to do?

Learn how to draw so I can do scientific illustration

27 What is the best advice for your 18 year old self?

It’s okay to seek help for the way you feel

28 What is the best way to de-stress?


29 What is the last thing you watched?

Game of Thrones

30 What is the weirdest thing you’ve had in your bag?

Dead animal parts, like every other biologist

31 What is your favorite animal?

My cat, Finch

32 What is your favorite book?

Why is this the hardest question? It changes daily. I’m going to go with….

33 What is your favorite comfort food?


34 What is your favorite day of the year?

January 1st, when all the eBird year counters get reset

35 What is your favorite plant?

Oncidium (I’m cheating and claiming a whole genus)

36 What is your favorite science fact?

Hox genes can be arranged along the chromosome in the same order they are expressed during development. I don’t know why that should happen.

37 What is your favorite season?


38 What is your favorite smell?


39 What is your favorite sound?

A good guitar solo

40 What is your favorite thing about yourself?

My beard is naturally tricolored

41 What is your favorite word (in any language)?


42 What is your proudest moment?

Getting into multiple grad schools and having to choose my favorite

43 What kind of tree would you be?

The old weathered ash tree in my grandma’s yard

44 What’s the best thing about where you live?

I’m pretty close to the interstate so I can get out of the city and away from people quickly.

45 Tell us something we probably don’t know.

The bright orange cheek of a Zebra Finch is actually a melanin, like red hair in humans, not a carotenoid like in many other orange birds.

46 Who would you like to see 46 Questions interview next?