Kelsey McCune holding a scrub-jay. Photo provided by Kelsey McCune
Kelsey McCune holding a scrub-jay. Photo provided by Kelsey McCune

Kelsey is a behavioral ecologist interested in the evolution of personality and cognitive traits in wild animals. She hopes to use her research to better understand the diverse human impacts on wildlife populations and facilitate conservation management strategies for threatened and endangered wildlife. During her PhD she compared social networks, boldness, and learning in two species of jay. Currently, she is a postdoctoral scholar at UC Santa Barbara where she studies the behavioral correlates of invasion success in great-tailed grackles across their current range. Find out more on!

1 Are you an early bird or night owl?

Early bird

2 Are you pro- or anti-pun?


3 Do you have any pets?

I have a sourdough starter

4 Do you have any science-themed home decor?

So. Much. Bird. Decor.

5 Do you prefer cooking or baking?


6 Do you prefer sweet or savory?


7 Do you speak any other languages?


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

I’d try to join the FBI

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

I think I would study the neuroscience of sleep or addiction

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

There are so many places I want to go…

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

Flight – because I hate airplanes

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

Parks and Recreation is still the best TV show I’ve ever seen

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

Go hiking to get away from people, find beautiful scenery and cool birds

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

Sleep, hand warmers when it’s cold, binoculars

15 What beverage gives you life?

Wine – Rosé in the summer, big reds any other time of year

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

In high school I remember being really in to books with plot lines revolving around questioning authority – A Tale of Two Cities, Fahrenheit 451, etc.

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

A marine biologist

18 What drives you and keeps you going?

Ambition, fear of failure, curiosity

19 What got you excited in science?

My zoology class in college – I loved learning how natural selection shaped seemingly absurd animal behaviors and morphology

20 What excites you about science now?

Potential solutions to biodiversity loss

21 What is a guilty pleasure of yours?

Nerd alert! I’ve been reading a lot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic books recently because they just came out with a rebirth

22 What is a secret talent of yours?


23 What is your favorite game?

Settlers of Catan

24 What is the last book you read?

I’m reading a Tom Clancy Jack Ryan book right now, before that I read “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens

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

Know the difference between persistence and stubbornness – Al Kamil

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

Live in a different country

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

Slow down! I should not rush into a strictly planned “perfect” life

28 What is the best way to de-stress?

Read a fiction book, go on a hike away from people

29 What is the last thing you watched?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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

Rubber duckies (I used them as a threatening object to measure jay boldness)

31 What is your favorite animal?

Jays! Of all kinds, but mostly California scrub jays because of their outstanding attitudes

32 What is your favorite book?

I have a lot of them!

33 What is your favorite comfort food?

Probably pasta, or fresh baked bread

34 What is your favorite day of the year?

Saturday 🙂

35 What is your favorite plant?

I really love my coffee house plants. Since living in Arizona, I’ve grown to love agave, ocatillo, and the santa rita prickly pear

36 What is your favorite science fact?

The brains of some corvids have more neurons than similarly sized (or bigger) primate brains

37 What is your favorite season?


38 What is your favorite smell?

Either cooking garlic, or fresh baked bread

39 What is your favorite sound?

The absence of anthropogenic noise

40 What is your favorite thing about yourself?

I’m (appropriately) confident

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

estacionamiento (Spanish for “parking”) – I just like the way it sounds

42 What is your proudest moment?

When I successfully trained my first jay to open the locked door on my puzzle box for my social learning experiment. No one told me or showed me how to do it, my whole experiment depended on it, and I figured it out on my own 🙂

43 What kind of tree would you be?

A big, sprawling live oak

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

Beautiful sunsets almost every day

45 Tell us something we probably don’t know.

I just learned that elephants can distinguish ethnicity, gender and age from human voices and adjust their behavior based on the historical threat present by certain human groups (i.e. adult male Maasai hunters) – McComb et al. 2014

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

Arianne Eason @ari_eason