Can you report an identifier?

Over the past week or so for over 500-ish observations, an identifier who claims to be a degreed ornithologists has been deliberately pushing research graded observations back to genus, family and even order without explanation and when he does, he just says “photo quality can’t make sufficient id”. He has repeatedly ignored my warnings that hitting the “No, this is not so and so species but it is definitely this genus/family/order” should only be used when there’s evidence against it, especially when four other identifiers make species ids with similar experience.


Is this user able to cite specific traits that aren’t discernible from the photos? i.e. is this based on a lack of knowledge on their part or more from a (perhaps unwarranted) conservative approach to identifying?



“…without explanation and when he does, he just says “photo quality can’t make sufficient id”.”

Once again I plead with identifiers (of which I am one) to give a proper rationale for why we feel the observation is not correct. Photo Quality can be a reason, but other concrete information should be given. I don’t know much about Ornithology, but deal with this frequently with moths. Glare, wing movements, wear, often make identifications difficult, and if I disagree with the identification I will discuss all of those in my reply. There should be a reporting system for proven mis identifiers. It takes longer to do it right, but it is the correct thing to do.


Here’s an example: One of the things this user did was identified all the Song Sparrows I banded this summer back to the family Passerellidae. No explanations whatsoever and the bird is in my hand! I think I know it’s a Song Sparrow. I’ve asked him for explanation in the comments section for every observation and it’s been lacking response after a week. I don’t mind the user identifying to family level but if he’s going to do it, I would like him to push “I don’t know if it’s this species but it’s definitely in this family” so that way my observation stays at research graded. Other identifiers have also shared their displeasure of this dissenting ids because another observer must agree with the species id to make it research graded again.


Sounds like maybe this person may not be the degreed ornithologist he says he is.


You could flag his identification and hope there are birders among curators or you could try to write an e-mail to iNat staff ( )

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Is this user actually doing anything against iNat policy? At the end of the day, they aren’t preventing the records from reaching Research Grade, just requiring them to get an additional identifier to vote “agree”. It’s the identifier’s prerogative to vote for the identification option they see as most correct, and it seems like that’s what this user is doing.

Basically, there’s no iNat rule against being wrong about an ID - that’s what the community ID process is there for.

(For the record, the identifier in question is incorrect in their assessment of the visible evidence on the handful of observations that I’ve looked at, but they’ve all already reached Research Grade thanks to other identifiers).


@fogartyf – That’s my understanding also. Even though it’s annoying to have someone screw with your IDs when you and others are confident of the species, it’s allowable. In most cases the “bad” or less specific ID gets swamped out by the others that are in agreement and the record still makes RG.

@fogartyf I can agree with that full-heartedly, I just don’t see why to mark it up the taxon family to get another identifier. As you may know, if I see something I can’t identified but I believe can, I will tag you and other top identifiers to grasp a broader perspective on a observation.

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Yeah, I can’t understand why they are bumping up these particular IDs, especially all the way to family. All of them that I saw were pretty obvious Song Sparrows - at worst if you weren’t familiar with the variation in their facial patterns they could be confused with Lincoln’s, but that’s still the same genus. I can imagine it’s annoying as the observer, especially if this was done hundreds of times.

This does seem like a case where the identifier should be asking in a comment to learn what others are seeing, as clearly they are missing something.


Is it possible the identifier isn’t seeing your comments? He/she could have them blocked? Or has the person responded to some comments? Have you tried a direct message? Just wondering.

If you can provide some examples to I’d be happy to look into it. There is nothing inherently wrong with adding an ID, but the person should be able to answer questions as well.


Yes, nothing bad in being wrong but if this is repeated many times against all the evidences and ignoring the points of view of other users that could be presumed to be expert in their field, in my opinion this could suggest that there is malice behind this behaviour.

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I’m really kind of torn on this one. I don’t see the person as entering intentionally false or wrong ID’s, and if their belief is that the evidence does not support an ID, then that is in line with the guidance for doing ID’s on the site, only enter an ID that you personally can do and that you believe the evidence supports.

There is never-ending angst on the site and forum about the quality of research grade observations and unsupported ID’s etc, but when someone expresses what seems to be an honest sense that the ID can’t be supported (even if they are wrong), it circles back to how do I stop and or sanction this person ?

People do need to be given the ability to express that viewpoint and are not required to accept the ID of other users.

To me the big issue is the ‘can it be improved box’. It seems flawed that one person’s vote can override 4 or 5 id’s, yet it is also true that 1 person can simply override that vote. The biggest problem is that there is no notification.


I think the option to add a comment expressing your uncertainty about the species-level ID is underused on iNat. I’m not always certain that the submitter’s ID is incorrect, but if I have doubts I just add a comment which the submitter and other reviewers can consider or not. Sometimes that’s helpful and it’s less “confrontational” than simply kicking the ID up to genus or family with no explanation when the submitter and one or more other reviewers seem to see enough evidence for a species ID.

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To me this issue is just another arm of the endless debate about how much influence one person should have regarding data on the site.

Some users view it as inappropriate that a single user can via the can it be improved box ‘veto’ the feedback of literally any number of other users.

Advocates of a reputation system view it as inappropriate that a professional ornithologist (I have no reason to disbelieve the profile of the identifier) can be outvoted by a group of amateurs, and that the expert answer unquestionably should be ‘the answer’.

Any change to data that changes community ID or needs id/casual/rg should be sent to any person who has identified the record.

To clarify, the identifier in this case didn’t seem to be using the DQA for this purpose, but just a dissenting ID vote.

Even if they did use the DQA question, all it would take is the observer clicking “no” to override it. This would be much easier if there were notifications about changes made to the DQA.

All I can say is to repeat my plea - if you change an id, give reasons for it. I’ve identified some terrible looking moths, if not to species, at least to Genus. In my opinion a poor picture of a bird is reason to say ‘I can’t identify’ and just leave it where it is. Changing the id needs more than that.

I was wondering if this was going to come up in the forum so I’ll explain what I’ve been doing. I have absolutely no interest in anything other than civil conversation about these issues. To be clear @birdwhisperer and @sedgequeen, my degrees are real last time I checked. I asked for advice with this problem in the following thread, but I was given many conflicting viewpoints and no real solution to what I see as a major problem:

Here was my introduction to this person while doing some identifying:

A bird that is clearly a gnatcatcher, but Black-tailed Gnatcatcher is out of range and I personally cannot be persuaded there is sufficient evidence in the photo to identify it as a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher. I left it at Gnatcatchers and tried to coax out the right identification, but this was ignored so I deleted my comments and identified it as California Gnatcatcher.

Here’s the next one:

A misidentification of a difficult group of Andean flycatchers that I have a lot of experience with, in which the identifier admits that they have zero experience. When I explained why I didn’t think it was the correct genus it was met with another misidentification.

And another one:

A difficult group of tanagers identified to subspecies when species-level identification using the photo provided is only possible by the world’s experts in this genus (if possible at all). Misidentifications are fine, understandable even with these difficult birds, but I noted a lack of interest in contrasting viewpoints and unwillingness to change an identification based on additional information.

There were a bunch of other subspecies-level identifications on other observations with some back and forth, mostly me offering some information without response.

I noticed a possible fall migrant Song Sparrow on the coast of California identified as the subspecies merrilli:

As an undergrad and grad student and now as a collections manager it has been a part of my job for the last 20 years to identify specimens to subspecies so I understand that it is difficult for many groups even with an excellent reference series. I don’t believe that all specimens, even within the breeding range of “Merrill’s” Song Sparrow can be correctly identified to subspecies. Ridgway thought the subspecies was not real and couldn’t be distinguished from intergrades between two other subspecies. So the idea that one could identify a fall migrant to this subspecies based solely on a photo that doesn’t show the entire bird is a difficult one to swallow, even amongst Song Sparrow experts. Note that I correctly identified it to Song Sparrow, as I did with the majority of the observations being discussed here. Also note that the subspecies definition followed by most in ornithology is that they must meet or exceed 75% diagnosability from other populations, so by definition upwards of 25% of a subspecies is not necessarily identifiable, even with a specimen.

So I saw the following observation identified to subspecies and I was a bit shocked:

If I just put Song Sparrow nothing changes and it stays a Research Grade identification of Merrill’s Song Sparrow, so I put Perching Birds as my identification. Note, not incorrect, just too coarse for everybody. I also answered the question that “No, I do not think the evidence in the photo is sufficient to identify it as Merrill’s Song Sparrow” honestly, but I guess that’s why somebody flagged it. I withdrew my identification because I started receiving personal insults (not from @birdwhisperer).

In the photos you mention of the birds being held I can only see part of the bird’s head. I cannot identify a bird based on what I think the observer knows or is seeing but I’m not seeing, I just can’t as a scientist. I have to evaluate the information presented.

What I really can’t understand here is that anybody can join and identify tons of observations, many incorrectly, with little or no comment on the observations. But, I identify ~500 observations at a coarser scale based on the photo I’m looking at (I believe correctly) and I don’t immediately explain myself it’s a major problem. I’m primarily interested in preventing incorrect or inaccurate information from entering the databases and subjecting researchers to weeding these unidentifiable or misidentified observations out of their datasets (as I have to do in my own research).

I had hoped that if @birdwhisperer wouldn’t listen to me about toning down the subspecies identifications then they would listen to others, particularly others that had agreed with their subspecies identification but then had to give it some more thought.

I noted in trying to tone back some of their identifications, particularly of difficult female hummingbirds with terrible photos, that others were doing the same. So, some of the top identifiers on this site spend part of their time correcting the over-precise identifications of a single person.

I’ll stop identifying because this is the third time this has happened, where I run up against an identifier identifying thousands or tens of thousands of observations incorrectly and then I focus on trying to figure out how to stop all of those spurious data from migrating to GBIF.

Apologies if I upset you, @birdwhisperer, I wish you the best of luck and hope you heed some of the advice given by others on this forum and the site about subspecies identifications.