Common birds being newly set to "obscured" recently

Sometime in the past week or two, a bunch of species have been given global statuses and set to “obscured” that certainly don’t need to be. For example, https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/9602-Quiscalus-quiscula, https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/3862-Calidris-pusilla, https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/145240-Setophaga-striata. I haven’t noticed it with any non-birds.

It is easy enough for curators to fix this - but I’m curious if this is due to some kind of automated import of IUCN statuses, or if there is a curator making these decisions (and if so hopefully they can stop?). If it’s automated, it’s kind of annoying playing whack-a-mole with these, but not a big deal and not sure there’s any better solution.

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[I’ve reset a bunch of these to open since, which is why they may not show as obscured when you look]

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These three are all assessed as Near Threatened by IUCN, so will have been automatically obscured. I think the IUCN status for birds was recently bulk updated while the taxon updates were done.

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Thanks! Happy as long as there isn’t someone out there who has decided that Common Grackle needs to be obscured :slightly_smiling_face:

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I’ve noticed a similar thing recently here in Maryland, USA, where records of relatively common avian taxa (Hermit Thrush Catharus guttatus, Merlin Falco columbarius) were obscured. I haven’t been using iNat long enough to know if records of these species were previously open. Curators have since “un-obscured” these observations (Thank you folks!), but I do wonder if there are other obscured common species out there that we haven’t noticed yet.

Bryoria fuscescens - since the species merge. I’ve already put that question on the forum, but so far nothing has changed. https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/common-and-widespead-species-with-threat-category/9722

It might not seem like it when a horde invades your yard, but the Common Grackle’s numbers are actually in a steep decline - some 60% in the last 50 years. Not in danger of extinction by a long shot - yet, but the trend is there.

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The curatorial standard on iNaturalist is that any species with an IUCN status of “Near Threatened (NT)” or worse is automatically obscured as a protective measure for that species (for more information, please see the “Geoprivacy” section of the Curator Guide). The reason why these birds have recently been obscured is because their IUCN assessment pages have been updated and they have been granted “worse” statuses in light of new information.

To un-obscure a threatened taxon usually warrants discussion beforehand, and I think that should be applied here as well. The decline of North American birds - even “common” species - has been well-documented, so it is not surprising that the statuses of some species worsen (Rosenberg et al. 2019).

Additionally, one should keep in mind that taxa may have country or state-specific statuses that automatically obscures observations in certain locations. For example, observations of the American Black Bear are open by default because it’s global status is “Least Concern (LC)”. However, observations of the bear in Mississippi are automatically obscured because it is considered critically imperiled within the state.

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The next sentence reads:

However, in situations these species are thought to be in very little danger from exploitation or damage due to the public’s knowledge of the location of these species, curators are advised to change the taxon geoprivacy value associated with the conservation status from “obscured” to “open” on the taxon edit page.

I didn’t and still don’t feel that discussion is really required when all these species were open 2 weeks ago, and had been for probably years, without any suggestion that they should be obscured, and are widespread, relatively common species (despite steep declines in most cases).

But here is a list (possibly not entirely complete) of birds I set to “open” globally yesterday:

  • Snowy Owl
  • Semipalmated Sandpiper
  • Rusty Blackbird
  • Eastern Meadowlark
  • Wood Thrush
  • Olive-sided Flycatcher
  • Black Scoter
  • Golden-winged Warbler
  • Chimney Swift
  • Eastern Whip-poor-will
  • Evening Grosbeak
  • Red Knot
  • Cerulean Warbler
  • Common Grackle
  • Blackpoll Warbler
  • Buff-breasted Sandpiper
  • Rufous Hummingbird

Ultimately, NONE of these species should have a global obscuring status, as we have already determined, thorugh lengthy consultation with local experts, that they do not need to be obscured in all or parts of Canada. If they need to be obscured in other jurisdictions, they should be set as such (I deal fairly regularly with flags asking for species X to be opened or obscured in some place or another), but I don’t think geoprivacy settings that have been set in an automated way with no human input whatsoever should be treated as anything more than super preliminary. Indeed, I would suggest that global geoprivacy based on IUCN should not be automatically implemented for any species with more than say 50 observations on iNat - in these cases it is far more likely than not to be unnecessary. And if it is necessary, it is likely that the proper obscuring will already have been done at a lower jurisdiction.

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Briefly, @loarie reset the global obscuration on all birds NT or worse as part of his taxonomic update to birds, regardless of whether or not there was actually a change in the IUCN status. Apologies to those of you who have been re-curating the taxon geoprivacy for birds. He’ll post a more comprehensive overview of all the pieces of the bird update soon.

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Out of curiosity why should this taxon be unobscured, I have heard of this species being harassed many times, often due to the public posing of an individual’s location.

As for species that should be unobscured species like Loggerhead Shrike, Heerman’s Gull, and Snowy Plover, have taxon geoprivacy set as obscured when I’ve never heard of humans knowing where these species are located being a threat to the species.

Many localized obscured species should probably be set to open as well, in Illinois alone there are at least 7 or 8 common species that are obscured.

Reuven specifically noted that where appropriate state or province level obscuring should be implemented. It is the global obscuring. In parts of its range, in particular Canada it is a quite common bird in winter and the relevant government agencies who have reviewed as well as Ebird do not obscure this species in Canada.

The issue is the global record overrules the local setting of open.

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The section continues on the remark that:

If the species is only threatened by development or climate change, not automatically obscuring them may be advised.

Obviously, this is a gray area so if you feel compelled to un-obscure a threatened species be prepared to support why you are doing this. Why is the species not likely to be exploited by the public?, why is it of value to have the exact location accessible to the public?, etc.

I am not saying these species “must” be obscured, but based on iNaturalist policy the standard is to automatically obscure if the global conservation status is “Near Threatened” or greater. I do not think obscuring species to reflect their global assessment is the equivalent of vandalism and to un-obscure a globally-threatened species would likely benefit from some sort of explanation. It may not be necessary for “Near Threatened” widespread species (e.g. Common Grackle, Red Knot, etc.), but I would think this would at least be beneficial for species firmly within the objective “threatened” category - “Vulnerable” (of which some of the species listed above are), “Endangered”, or “Critically Endangered” - as those are the species often most sensitive to exploitation.

This reasoning does not make sense to me. Conservation statuses and assessment pages are updated in response to new information. In 2016, the Giraffe’s conservation status worsened from “Least Concern” (which was its status from 1996 to 2015) to “Vulnerable” in recognition of continuous population decline and has been obscured on iNaturalist ever since. I think obscuring it globally was the right course of action despite it being considered a widespread species with open-data associated with it prior to 2016, but maybe this is less necessary for birds as I feel it is for mammals.

I agree that a threatened species should be able to be un-obscured at the national, state, and province levels. I have been considering making this a Feature Request. However, I recognize this as a separate issue.

I think the suggestion that all globally-threatened species with over fifty observation should not be obscured sounds dangerous for those organisms. This may not be the case in Canada or the United States, but many species on the IUCN Red List lack individualized assessments at lower jurisdictions. Additionally, this suggested policy would be incompatible with nearly all threatened marine taxa.

I am curious. Does any of this affect the observations I set to obscured because of proximity to my home?

No, if you choose to enter something as obscured manually, it stays that way regardless of the setting for the species. Your choice takes precedence.

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I guess they haven’t been able to adapt like their cousins, the great-tailed grackles. I have 3 observations of the common grackle on inat, and those are all the instances I’ve seen them. I have 32 observations of the great-tailed grackle and my ratio of sighting to actual inat observations for them are maybe 5:1. They’re pretty much a daily thing.