New board member Aranya Iyer is for the birds in the best possible way
Updated: Nov 8
By Heather Raithby Doyle
Blooming Boulevards members and supporters, meet Aranya Iyer. This 26-year-old dynamo is not only our Meet a Member for this month, she is also Blooming Boulevard’s newest, and youngest, board member.
Aranya is holding a white-throated sparrow safely in a bander's grip during an early morning bird banding session at Haldimand Bird observatory in fall 2023. Photo ©2023_ Rick Ludkin
If the last name sounds familiar, it may be because we featured her father Mohan Iyer in this space in January 2021. His love of birds and ecology has had a big impact on Aranya’s life. “It means everything,” says Aranya. “He was the one that found my first bird-banding internship, he’s the one that bought binoculars and bird identifying books, and he’s the one that I still walk through the backyard with as he points out the native plants and the insects.” In a way, she says, her upbringing mirrors what Blooming Boulevards is all about: “When I look at Blooming Boulevards, and all these projects,...it’s a grassroots level that is a really important connection to the land and to the people who are in this space.”
Aranya joined our BB seed collecting team last fall. L to R: Alan Schaubel, Archna Gupta, Mohan Iyer, and Aranya Iyer. Photo ©2022_Jeanne McRight.
Aranya has built, and continues to build, an impressive set of skills including education, entrepreneurship, and as a social media personality. And when we say she is for the birds, she is an advocate in the best possible way. For starters, Aranya currently works at World Wildlife Fund Canada (WWF-Canada). As a member of the science, knowledge and innovation team, she is working on a project called priority threat management, focusing on ecoregion 6E. This helps analyze the best and most cost-effective ways to save as many species at risk as possible. Aranya looks forward to balancing the big picture project she works on at WWF-Canada by volunteering with a group like Blooming Boulevards, which helps people to create habitat in their yards by planting native plants. “I love the fact Blooming Boulevards is engaging suburban residents to think deeply about climate change by thinking about the land they occupy…There are not a lot of organizations, if any, that have such a tangible impact for residents of a suburban city the size of Mississauga.”
“I feel like I need to do something on the ground to alleviate some of this climate anxiety I have. I want to dedicate my life to this cause on all different levels ...So [Blooming Boulevards] is a bit of a stress reliever because it ties into something I really care about and it’s actionable,” says Aranya.
Aranya is a recent Masters of Science graduate from Western University. Her thesis focused on satellite technology and big data to examine how birds migrate long distances using geomagnetic orientation cues. While on her academic journey, she realized there is a need to diversify the conservation field. To help address that gap she started Field Research in Ecology and Evolution Diversified (FREED). The award winning company organizes weeklong and weekend workshops for students who are Indigenous, Black or racialized. All workshops are led by instructors of equally diverse backgrounds who work in the conservation field. Many of them will be hiring future graduates. FREED workshops are hosted through University of Toronto, McMaster University, Western University and University of Guelph alongside 40 plus conservation partners. The topics range from native plant identification, invasive plants, bird banding, insect monitoring, aquatic ecology and more. “Students can pick up skills that will eventually help them have a career in this field,” says Aranya.
Aranya leads a birding workshop at FREED 2022 with 2 students as they spot a small migratory bird in the canopy at Algonquin Wildlife Research Station. Photo ©2022_ Samantha Stephens
Importantly, costs are covered for participants. “There can be a financial barrier to access fieldwork because many positions don’t pay, and even require you to pay to get to that location, or miss out on work to have that experience. [Fieldwork] is such a key stepping stone for future jobs,” says Aranya. She adds students consistently show increased confidence in their abilities based on surveys taken before and after the workshops: "I think, especially for students coming from visible minority backgrounds, facilitating and creating a space specifically for these students is really important. Not only does it spark interest, but it connects them to a network in the community that will keep on building interest over time.” Aranya has a strong social media presence and is an expert in how to use social media to advance causes she is passionate about. Her Instagram site @nerdmeetsbird has almost 2,500 followers. It’s a treat to scroll through her feed which dispenses knowledge, warmth and enthusiasm for the birding world. Her exuberant personality and extensive bird knowledge helped Aranya land a job as a YouTube host for Animalogic. This Toronto-based company focuses on conversations about nature and ecology, guiding the audience, as the company says, "‘through the wonderful and often wacky animal kingdom.” Aranya hosts the series World of Birds where she is in front of the camera, interacting with birds and engaging the audience. Many of her videos get 300,000 plus views, with some, like the one about the weird and wonderful Potoo birds getting 2.6 million views. From this footage, she also shoots and curates TikTok and Snapchat videos to share scientifically accurate and fascinating facts about birds: "It’s creating science content that’s fun and digestible for people around the world.” Aranya clearly brings a fresh outlook and strong credentials to the Blooming Boulevards Board of Directors. It’s easy to forget her relatively young age. When asked how she sees herself contributing, she says: “I’m still trying to figure it out. I’ve never sat on a board before.” When pressed, she adds: “I think one of the things I can contribute is having my finger on the pulse of things that are really relevant to people like me, whether it be someone from a minority group, a younger person, or a recent university graduate who has to move back home….I honestly think one of my strengths is a workhorse ethic, so bringing that whether it be to communications, or logistics, or relationship building, that’s where I want to be.” “I'm just really, really excited to get to know Blooming Boulevards and connect with the people who have been doing this work for such a long time….I am excited to stay in this world and in this energy that Blooming Boulevards is fostering, and contribute to it.” Aranya Iyer, Blooming Boulevards couldn’t be happier to have you aboard!