Changing ID based on lack of evidence

Maybe this has been discussed here already, but recently I stumbled over a situation that I would like to discuss here.
I posted on observation of two Bonelli’s Eagles (Aquila fasciata), an adult and a subadult bird, a relatively rare raptor in Portugal, although locally common. I managed to take some pictures with my cell-phone, that were not great but better that than nothing.
Sometime later, someone declassified the record to the Aquila genus. This was based only on the fact that the picture could not confirm the ID.
In my point of view, one should only correct an observation based on info that allows you to conclude that the ID is wrong, not on the lack of evidence that it is right. An observer bases it ID on much more than the picture posted, so can be actually pretty sure of the ID, which was the case here. I had a good and lasting look on the two birds and there was no doubt about the species to me.
I understand one does not confirm an ID based on a not explicit picture. But in this case, one should just leave the observation as it is, I think. Am I right?


I disagree. Lots of people on iNaturalist don’t know how to identify things, or are overly optimistic. I might change the photo to “Aquila” in this case.

Here’s how you can prevent that. Write a comment saying that Bonelli’s Eagles are locally common in this area, though rare in Portugal. (That statement is good evidence you know what you’re talking about.) Write down why you think these are Bonelli’s Eagle. Maybe say that your camera wasn’t able to record the needed details.

You could write these things in a comment now. Maybe the person who changed the name would decide he shouldn’t have and will change his change. Even if he never does, it’s a clue for other identifiers who will come along.


There’s been a LOT of discussion on this (I’ll link topics later), but I don’t think there is an official policy beyond IDers should post to their own comfort level and that IDs shouldn’t be explicitly disagreed with as trolling or malice.

If the IDer chooses not to trust the observer’s expertise/knowledge…well, that sucks, but they aren’t obligated to use non-explicit disagreement.

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If they added disagreement - it was wrong, try asking them why did they do that, they shouldn’t add diasgreeing genus id if there’s lack of evidence against the species. Tell them they should add non-d. genus id in such case.

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I just saw the observation. None of the two users that ID it as Aquila sp. has disagreed with the initial ID. The staus is still A. fasciata needs ID.


I could not disagree more. Never assume an ID is correct. If the photo doesn’t illustrate the necessary diagnostic traits, then there is no basis for the identification. The obligation is on you to support an ID, not for others to disprove your identification.

Dunning-Kruger is very real here on iNaturalist.


I think this is a fair point.

@henk1, have you commented so that the IDer can see your reasoning, as Barbara suggested?

Though in this case it may be moot:

As this topic discusses, there are valid and varied reasons to add a non-disagreeing higher ID.

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By the way, in a comment to the observation I’ve asked the observer to describe the characteristics he saw that support the A. fasciata Id. I think if he is able to do so, the observation can be accepted by others.


There should be a spectrum here based on user feedback, range, evidence etc. Simply saying the photo does not support something is not always the final say.

For example there are likely thousands of records of visually similar birds where the identifier notes they were identified by song. Should they all be downvoted.

An example I often use is I once put in a record of a bird here - an Eastern Wood-Pewee. They are visually not possible to be separated from Western Wood-Pewee. An identifier downvoted it to genus saying Western could not be eliminated from the photo. Technically that is true. However in 150+ years of organized ornithology in my province there are 2 confirmed records of Western Wood-Pewee.

Was that a legitimate down vote?

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No, they shouldn’t be summarily down voted, because IDers should assume good faith on the part of the Observers and therefore consider all evidence, including the description, comments, etc.

If they truly believe the possibility that the other species cannot be eliminated, and do not trust your expertise and experience, why wouldn’t that down vote be legitimate?

The down vote could be wrong (because you do know what you’re talking about), but still be legitimate (because the user genuinely believes in their position).

Hi @henk1. It’s probably best to think of each ID (yours and those of other iNat users) as being the taxon that person is best able to provide a confident ID for, based on the evidence available to them. Of course, the evidence available to you as the observer may go beyond what’s visible in the photos you provided and that can lead you to make a different ID than other experienced people.

Where it seems there may be confusion, you can help out other iNat users by adding a note or comment to explain other factors leading to your ID.

In these cases where it’s hard to give a precise ID based on the photos, it could be that other iNat users make identifications that disagree with yours. You can either let the Community ID logic evaluate these various IDs, or you can decide that you want your ID to take precedence and opt out of Community ID. I’ve been tempted to do that a couple times, but there is also value to engaging with other iNat users and explaining your reasons for your choice of ID. (They don’t have to agree with you, of course).

I hope that helps provide some context.


It’s been suggested elsewhere on the forum that if the observer has non-diagnostic photos of the subject but supplements these with a description of the characteristics observed in the field and even sketches of the organism showing the observed diagnostic features, then the record MIGHT be suitable as a Research Grade if a reviewer agrees. More information is always better.

But such a record is definitely in a gray area in terms of attaining RG.


Unless a recording is provided, such identifications are fundamentally impossible to confirm in cases where that is the only trait allowing for determining between similar species. Such observations should never reach Research Grade. I can never assume that any user on here knows what they’re talking about. If I can’t confirm the diagnostic traits from the information provided, then an identification has to be taken conservatively.


It still matters, there’s one Phylloscopus still in needs ID because it looks like one species and observer told it was singing as another one, so if people weren’t listening to this non-existant record, this bird would be RG long time ago.


Context matters. The photo(s) provided are one part of the data to allow a decision to be made. So too is the date, the location, written comments etc.

If I had said it was a Western, I heard it singing, trust me, that would be a different case. Claiming something extraordinary should require extraordinary evidence.

If I show that photo and give no other data and ask a birder or ornithologist what is it, the correct answer is a Wood-Pewee . When the context of where and when it was seen is added, it is a different answer. The probability that I discovered the 3rd ever one in the province versus a common widespread lookalike species is vanishingly small. Not non-zero, but there are many zeroes after the decimal point before you get to a crooked number in the percentage chance.

By this standard, anything that does not have a DNA voucher should not be eligible for research grade. How many examples are there of species science was sure was one thing but turned out to be multiple different cryptic species? How can we be sure that does not apply to any other record?

If this is the standard to be used, then we need to get busy as there are tens if not hundreds of thousands of records that need to be downvoted out of research grade status.

I don’t know where the standard for an ‘acceptable’ species ID is. It is not 50 percent chance in my mind, but it is also not 100.0 percent either.


I could not disagree more. iNaturalist is not a foto ID contest. What would have happened if I hadn’t added a photo? Would anyone have suggested downgrade the record to Aquila? No, of course not. And no, I don’t have obligation to to support an ID and I don’t expect ID confirmation if it is not obvious from the info available on iNaturalist.
I think one should only suggest change of ID if there is evidence that the ID is wrong. Nothing on the two photos indicate that it is NOT a Bonelli. So what is the added value of the suggestions? When I added the notes that it is an adult and a subadult, that surely says something about what I saw and how well i saw it, doesn’t it?
Most birdrecords on iNaturalist are without supporting evidence at all. So should they be downgraded to Genus level? Just because the observer is obliged to support an ID? Of course not.
ID should be afirmative, based on the conviction of the IDer, independent if its a confirmation or a suggestion of change. That’s how I see it.


As @draposo79 pointed out, your ID was not actually changed.

Perhaps there is no added value to you. However, this is a community and other people interact with your observation to suit their own ends.

Unless the other identifiers speak up we can only speculate why they did it. Sometimes I do it as a combination of support for the higher taxon and to follow the observations so I get notifications if there is an update. Whatever the motivation in your case, the bottom line is that nothing destructive has happened.


But what’s you problem with those ids right now if your observation is still at species level?


My philosophy is to not bump an ID up unless I can see a trait that rules out the previous ID. I feel very strongly about this when the ID was made by the observer. They actually saw the individual and may have other information not captured in the photo. I used to be an expert of a very small group of mostly unknown flies. The 7 or so species in the US all look pretty much the same. You’d need a damn good photo to tell them apart, maybe even taking off the heads to see certain structures. I’m still not going to bump the iNat IDs back to genus because you can’t see something in the photo. The observer may have had it in hand with a loupe for a few seconds and know what they’re looking at.

I may break this rule if the ID is not from the observer. They’re working from the same information that I am.

I make comments when there’s uncertainty. Sometimes we get more info, sometimes not. Perpetual “Needs ID” doesn’t seem like a problem to me.


That’s a good approach, thanks.

It took me a while, but I am definitely coming around to this, frustrating as it may be at times.