Birders: how did you start using iNat?

I’m giving a talk to a local Audubon society tomorrow and I’d love to hear stories from birders who started out with eBird and then came to iNat. Do you use iNat for birds at all, or do you stick with eBird (which is much better for counting and listing birds)? Has iNat encouraged you to notice non-birds while you’re out? Does learning other taxa improve your birding at all? Was it difficult to use iNat after being used to eBird?

I’m not interested in getting people to stop using eBird, of course (it’s great!) but how to best explain iNat to someone more familiar with birding and eBird. Thanks!

13 Likes

I began using eBird a while ago (2006 is my first list, I think) but didn’t really get going on eBird for record keeping until about 10 years ago. I think my first iNaturalist post was in 2020 during the pandemic as a way to get my students stuck at home to do some field work and share it with their classmates.
I then got hooked on iNat - and because I had (have) a poor quality cell phone camera, mostly kept it to plants, fungi and slow moving insects and I don’t typically take bird pictures generally.
I do record audio of birds and post to iNaturalist (usually things I’m not 100% certain about or unusual singing --female songbirds in particular) - primarily because of the lack of ability to share/ask for confirmation about sound ID on the eBird platform. Though I do also occasionally upload audio recordings to my eBird lists as well.
I will definitely say that iNaturalist has been a fantastic way to get “into” plants, fungi, etc. because it offers the capacity to share information, produce maps, create projects.

4 Likes

We were a birder and ebird user before learning iNat exited.

Yes. Did a lot of iNatting during the past 16 days. Uploaded 118 observations of 73 species, 30 of which were birds. 11 of the observations included audio. The ability to identify with audio helps keep iNat relevant for us because seen-only would limit us. Overall, we have observed 1,430 species on iNat, only 250 species are birds.

Yes. We started iNatting during the pandemic in order to learn more about non-birds. It was summer, the birds had stopped singing as much and the trees were all leafed out, and travel outside the county was discouraged. So we started like many iNatters and started with what trees are in our yard, what plants, and what organisms interact with those. Sometimes now we will go out to iNat specifically and won’t list on ebird. We might report to ebird (incidental, they call it) any infrequent, rare, or noteworthy bird. In this forays, typically in summer, we visit prairies to look at plants and for non-bird animals.

For us, maybe a little. Knowing which birds are more likely to be see in a conifer (ie Pine Warbler) provides assistance in bird identification. Knowing what a bird eats and then finding that organism can make it more likely to observe a target bird. Mostly, learning other taxa has increased our engagement with the natural world so that when we venture out, we are going to find something to observe whether or not bird activity is high.

Yes. iNat has more annotation choices, more consideration for evidence, more location uncertainty. And then speicfic quirks, like trying to reorder photos on iOS mobile. Even selecting the most refined level of taxonomy for each iNat observation is a step beyond ebird listing. And iNat is interactive, with outsiders being able to comment on the observation and the potential for dialogue. On ebird, leaving a comment on your own checklist (ie the weather or trail conditions) or on individual species recorded (ie a crow was divebombing the red-tailed hawk) is intended for personal notation or to guide other birders. The notion that someone can reply to your observation or your comments on their observation for us is both potentially exciting (because we can learn, share awe, encourage) and frightening (accusing us of disagreeing with the observer if we identify to a higher taxonomic level without disagreeing because it’s the best we know, or unrelated comments about our pronouns).

ebird doesn’t have this interactivity online, though because of the concept of hotspots and the public nature of the platform (and chasing other people’s reports, especially of rarities), birders wind up at the same locales often and can get to know each other in person. We have not run into other iNatters ever, except ones we already know from birding. This social aspect, along with the forum, of iNat might be one of the biggest differences in the platforms outside the obvious that ebird is about birds and iNat is about all life. The other difference is that for rare birds, ebird has volunteer reviewers to confirm or not confirm rare encounters, while all other non-rare ebird reports do not require descriptions or evidence or confirmation.

We tend to upload audio and photos to ebird somewhat infrequently, and then often only when it’s a rare/infrequent bird (evidence is often required or just really helpful for getting rare birds confirmed by reviewers on ebird) or exceptional quality photo or audio. We do tend to double post media to ebird and iNat.

Good luck at the talk, Tony!

2 Likes

In my first three years of serious birding, I basically observed all of the expected species for my area so vagrants and traveling were the only ways to observe new species. I used iNaturalist during this time, but not heavily.

Since I was no longer seeing new birds on a regular basis, my desire to see new things lead me to start paying more attention to butterflies, bees, moths, and fish (I already enjoyed mammals and herps but I still didn’t think plants or fungi were that exciting). Around this time, I revamped the projects I had on iNaturalist to better keep track of the species of flora and fauna on the nature preserves that the land trust I work for has. This was around the height of COVID-19, so I was spending way more time out on the nature preserves and I started trying to record as much as possible to get the species totals up for each one.

It’s now grown to trying to see as many species as possible everywhere I go and I even now get very excited for new and interesting plants! iNaturalist has definitely helped me become a very well-rounded naturalist rather than just a birder. I still use eBird to keep track of my sightings, but I submit nowhere near as many checklists as I used to.

5 Likes

I first heard about iNat in an article in the ABA’s Birding magazine.

I still use eBird regularly and upload all of my bird sightings there. Frankly, I feel my bird-related data has more use there than it does here.

But all my photos of non-bird organisms (and most of even my bird photos) end up on here. I rarely upload photos to eBird (although I certainly do occasionally).

1 Like

I got started with eBird shortly before high school and was quickly hooked because the field experience and organization of sightings intuitively matched pretty well with the habits I already had as a birder.

I used to notice random cool-looking bugs and plants and whatever, but just assumed that there were a near-infinite number of species and no reasonable way for me to find out what they were. I think I looked around and found Project Noah once but evidently it wasn’t appealing enough for me to try it. If I had come across BugGuide there’s a decent chance I would’ve joined that.

Then a few years later I saw this blog post from @mikeburrell which was convincing enough that I tried posting some photos to iNat a couple days later. Then I started uploading old photos and was hooked. I liked that iNat provided both identification help and species listing; without both of those it wouldn’t have appealed to me. I think a lot of Ontario birders joined around the same time, I’m guessing either from that blog post or word-of-mouth following it.

Since then I’ve become more invested in iNat than in eBird, because I get more new species from posting to iNat haha. And it’s a lot easier to find significant records with more obscure taxa, and the community here is a lot more fun and engaging. I still keep my birds to eBird to simplify the numbers and effort, but I don’t post photos there as often. The only annoyance with being a purist about bird records is when I’m travelling somewhere new and find birds that are difficult to ID… iNat is a lot more accessible to new birders who are unfamiliar with the species around, so even if someone I know wants to get into birding I’ll generally try to get them into iNat first.

3 Likes

I don’t actually use eBird although I appreciate seeing the postings by those who do in my area.

For me, iNat is a better fit for photo documentation since I like to photo other organisms when I’m out birding. And I guess I don’t have the bandwidth to juggle two different websites at the same time.

1 Like

Being a herpetologist was my dream job growing up. Before iNat was even a thing, I was taking photos of herps with a film camera and taping the photos into a notebook. I would write the date, time, and location next to the photo. So obviously, I was primed for something like iNat to come along. I am extremely grateful to my former self for taking such detailed notes, because to this day, my only Spotted Salamander observation on iNat is a scanned photo from that notebook.

I started using eBird first by a narrow margin. At the time, I was starting my career as a herpetologist and birding only recreationally. I discovered iNat through a bioblitz at a State Park and afterwards used it relatively infrequently for herps, wildflowers, and occasionally other organisms.

I later grew to dislike working in the rain and/or at night and decided to move away from herpetology towards a career in ornithology and wetland ecology. Because much of my work was focused on birds, I started birding much less recreationally. This is when I really started using iNat regularly. I was still primarily focused on wildflowers and herps but also started branching into things like invertebrates and fungi.

At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, I started birding recreationally again and haven’t stopped, and I still use iNat regularly. Nothing exists in a vacuum, and I am extremely interested in how birds interact with the non-avian organisms around them.

iNat has greatly increased the quality of my eBird checklists. Instead of being a simple list of the species observed, I frequently add notes about the other organisms I see birds interacting with. For example, this checklist where I discovered a feeding frenzy around a swarm of Eastern Subterranean Termites departing their nest for their nuptial flights, or this checklist where I noted the food sources I observed a flock of Cedar Waxwings taking advantage of. Before iNat, I don’t know that I would have paid much attention to the other non-avian species, even the ones the birds were interacting with directly.

5 Likes

Also relevant: the latest American Birding Podcast, where they discuss naturalizing beyond birds, and mention iNat a few times.

4 Likes

Although I started keeping records of organisms through eBird first and therefore birds, I was never really that big of a birder. I was a herp and fish guy first, that was my first attachment, it just happened that having an older brother who was into birds eventually rubbed off on me and I bought myself a camera with birthday money and started recording birds through eBird in late 2015. I was only somewhat active when it came to eBird (although I was attending public school for the first time and it was middle school so pretty wacko for me) I really only got somewhat active in 2017-2018 but even then I didn’t really do all that much.

I had gotten pretty inactive with eBird after March 2019 and a couple months later in May 2019 I had discovered Pokemon Go through my sister and that sort of became my iNat before I discovered iNat. To describe basically what went on with me, I had begun to become inactive in POGO in mid 2022 if I recall correctly I was part of a large part of that player base that was getting frustrated with some of the questionable decisions the game was making so that made me pretty inactive, but during the entire time between May 2019-September 2022 I had been doing a lot of fishing with my dad (which during that time period was the first time in three years that we did fishing since I left Montana in 2016 where we also did a lot of fishing) and because we were mainly trout fishermen and in my time living in Washington from mid 2016 to late 2018 trout fishing wasn’t really all that available, so we took all our chances to trout fish when moving to Oregon, and it was at this point that I had gotten my first phone so I started taking pictures of all my catches (as fishermen do) so I had a small stack of records from those years. It was also during this time that my brother (apparently) was encouraging me to join iNat so I could add my fish observations but it wasn’t until September 25th, 2022 that I finally caved and created an account.

At first, I had mainly only encouraged focus on fish and herps as that was what I was mainly into the most, and because of the straining relationships that was occuring with the Pokemon Go community with the developers I eventually walked away from that and turned my focus towards birds again in February 2023 when I found my old camera again. During all this time, I was still basically non-existent on eBird but I eventually returned to eBird and did checklists again in April 2023, although they were mostly shared checklists from my brother. Skipping ahead to September 2023 my brother was getting ready to go to college and that’s when I started making checklists on my own. I still maintain this logic, but I currently like to use eBird as a bit of a tracking system to mark the locations for where I have my bird observations (if I happen to not observe any plants, insects etc. through the iNat app and therefore my phone) so I wouldn’t forget the locations for where I found those birds or anything else on my camera. My other main current use for eBird is simply just uploading my rare bird photos for their database, but I plan to (eventually) upload all my other bird photos from the past year or so.

Although birds are no longer my main focus, I still pay attention to them but the gateway that iNat has given me has allowed me to focus more on my passion projects like fishing and herping and in doing so is allowing me to find hundreds upon hundreds of species that I would have otherwise overlooked, even while being raised in a nature friendly home, things like plants and insects were always things I overlooked until now, but it’s all these little things that help sustain what I love and now I simply cannot ignore passing up photos of any organism as it is now become my life, and simply put I am extremely happy it has become my life. Finding and using iNaturalists has become one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and because of my gaming experience with Pokemon and being a gamer in general, it’s now become a sort of fun task for me to try and observe as many species as possible and also allows me to spend my time on something socially productive even though when I’m not iNatting I still play my games but I am always thinking about iNat. I have truly become addicted to iNaturalists and I love how welcoming this community has been.

1 Like

Life long birder and frequent eBird user for 10ish years (now mostly retired) … CNC was my gateway. I miss the list functionality of eBird sometimes, but I’m very happy using this website for all my nature needs.

3 Likes

Like many others here I didn’t actually start with birds. I was into marine biology most of my childhood, then got into herpetology. However, once I met a few birders I quickly turned my focus that direction because the information felt more accessible to a beginner and our local birding community had a stronger presence than groups with other focuses (at least, from my perspective). I heard about eBird early on and it appealed to me because it felt like the closest I could get to a real “research” experience while still just a high school kid (I also used a herpetology-specific citizen science database as well, but birding was more accessible so I used eBird a lot more).

I think I first heard about iNat around 2016/2017, but didn’t have the free time to branch out at the time. Like many others, the pandemic gave me the time to finally engage with iNat. I’ve got a bit of a background with websites and data, so learning the new site wasn’t too tricky for me personally, although as I become more active as an identifier I can certainly understand how the transition can be bumpy.

I still enjoy using eBird because attempting to list every bird I can see and hear provides a different kind of focus than my more opportunistic iNatting behavior. eBird also contains my full life list, which I don’t want to lose. I also upload any photos I take of birds to iNat, but more casually than the lists I keep on eBird.

I’ve come to enjoy the community and educational aspects of this site greatly, but still often feel like iNat is more of a learning rather than a professional tool for me. Of course it’s allowed me to branch out in many directions as a naturalist, and there’s a lot to be said for deepening one’s understanding of the environment. I’m sure it’s helped me as a birder as well, but I think in more subtle ways (I can’t really think of a clear example beyond simply improving as an observer overall).

For me, iNat is more valuable as a learning tool and expanding one’s abilities as a naturalist while eBird feels more inherently “scientific” (quotes because I fully understand that iNat can provide quality data if treated correctly as well [and eBird is by no means perfect as a data source]).

6 Likes

This doesn’t really answer your question but I was kind of the opposite. iNaturalist got me into birding. I was never really that interested in it until I found I could document and identify what I was seeing. I’ve never tried eBird. I’ve always been interested in observing any type of wildlife. Not so much plants and fungi unless it’s a beautiful wildflower.

5 Likes

I created an eBird account very early on (October 2002). I started using iNaturalist in 2010 while on a birding trip to record non-bird sightings but I certainly included sightings of birds from the beginning. I have had a daily eBird streak for 1958 days and iNaturalist streak of 1593 days. I’ve completed over 5000 checklists on eBird and I recently passed 10,000 observations on iNaturalist on a birding tour to Panama. I love both platforms for what they are and I’m very glad to have iNaturalist as an outlet for all the non-bird records. Especially since the community helps me get IDs for taxa that are harder to learn than birds.

4 Likes

I was a big time obsessive birder and only used iNat to record one-off bugs or flowers. Eventually I ran out of easy-medium-hard lifers in my area and branched out more into other taxa on iNaturalist. Got into some macrophotography for insects…now getting into fungal DNA for those sweet sweet lifers ;)

The community on iNaturalist makes it easy to learn as you go. I keep my bird records on eBird exclusively but I take pleasure in IDing birds for people on iNat.

3 Likes

How I got here:
I actually ended up here because of Squirrel Mapper. At the time, I was trying to get involved with citizen science. I’d been helping ID squirrels on their website and I was looking for how I could contribute my own squirrel pictures to the project. I joined eBird two years earlier, in 2018, from an article in Birds and Blooms. I don’t remember how I ended up at Squirrel Mapper, but I think it was also a magazine article. I had loads of pictures of various organisms from vacations and life and general. I started submitting them and the ID began to come in… I was hooked!

Do you use iNat for birds at all, or do you stick with eBird (which is much better for counting and listing birds)?
I don’t usually post birds here unless I really don’t know what I’m seeing/hearing or I didn’t do an ebird list. I love iNat for posting inverts and ended up being crazy about inverts from joining iNat, which I joined to submit photos of squirrels! :laughing:

Has iNat encouraged you to notice non-birds while you’re out? Absolutely! I had always noticed things before, but it was like. “Oh, a beetle, I’ll take a photo” and now it’s like “Oh, I think that’s a rove beetle! I better snap a bunch of photos before it runs off. I hope I can get the whole thing in focus!” I’ve also invested in many guides on things like Wasps, Bees, Beetles, and Flower Flies (which I didn’t even know existed before iNat - it turned out many ‘bee’ photos were calligraphers!).

Does learning other taxa improve your birding at all? Maybe? Probably in some weird way. But I also can see that it distracts. I’ve definitely missed a good bird (an uncommon duck) before while photographing a grasshopper. Oops. The grasshopper was pretty though and I have no regrets on getting that photo.

Was it difficult to use iNat after being used to eBird? Not really, but it’s more time consuming as I have to crop and upload each individual photo/audio file whereas I can submit all the birds I saw in three hours on a single checklist to eBird. But it’s a different platform and I like it on its own merits, too. I use both heavily. But I love how I can post footprints, anthills, spiderwebs, and yes, even poop to iNat as a valid observation. Sometime you can even get a decent ID from them. But it’s also fun to see all the kinds of spiderwebs that people post, too.

I’d also like to note that I love iNat as a place to share my photos with people who want to see them - I have always taken loads of photos and didn’t have many to share them with (that reaction of “eww bugs!”). Now I share them here and get to see everyone else’s photos, too!

8 Likes

I have an ebird account, but I found ebird a bit too daunting. It seems like it’s more for the serious birder, someone who will count each house finch in a flock of 12 and who will stand stationary for an hour or so with binoculars and a camera lens the size of a toddler, versus a casual like me who goes jogging with a point-n-shoot in a bum bag. None of my photos were good enough to put on ebird. Inat is better for just snapping a lame photo or two of a couple of bird species.

6 Likes

I do some oil painting of landscapes and the like so I think I just take notice of trees and other things that aren’t birds for that reason. I’m not looking to ID things so much, just studying shape, colour, how the light hits the subjects and how shadows fall etc. In the words of Bob Ross, “Go out and talk to a tree, and make friends with it.”

I can’t say the iNat app has influenced that one way or the other. Learning other taxa doesn’t help much with birding for me either.

My start with iNat wasn’t exactly a demascus road experience or anything like that. I simply went looking for an app on my phone to help me ID plants. Then at about the same time my interest in photography took off and I just combined the two things. Sort of just fell into it.

1 Like

I first discovered iNat shortly after starting eBird. I remember during those first weeks/months of birding thinking how I was counting all the birds around, why not the other animals I’m seeing. So I remember googling something to the effect of “eBird for other animals”. And it took off from there.

I still use eBird for birding checklists. But the vast majority of my nature time is spent exploring and looking for not just birds, but everything.

3 Likes

I think at first, I used iNaturalist more than eBird because it seemed a bit easier to upload observations on. I do like using iNaturalist for birds especially because it can give me exact locations of bird sightings, as opposed to eBird often using a slightly more general location such as a park. Sometimes, when I’m outside, I do also enjoy looking at and uploading observations of bugs and plants since iNaturalist has made them a little more interesting for me.