Concern about # of observations

I often sit by my kitchen window and take pictures of the birds at my feeder. I’m worried that the number of repeat species observations I’m making because of this might give people false impressions about the number of organisms in my area. Should I maybe cool it a bit with observations of species I’ve already observed in the same area?


It’s entirely an individual choice on how frequently you upload documentation of your common species. As I write this, I’m watching the resident species of birds repeatedly visiting the feeder outside my office window and a trail camera pointed at a bird bath in the yard is dutifully recording the daily visits of White-winged Doves, Fox Squirrels, Raccoons, etc. My own personal take is that I upload images of common resident species no more than one/month or at most twice/month (each two-week period) unless there is some unusual behavior, occurrence, etc., that warrants additional observations. Same for both my moth images (which could become overabundant) and for the hundreds of trail camera images (90% of which I end up discarding for the above reasons). This type of schedule is sufficient to document (a) the continued residency of these species, and/or (b) the approximate seasonality of common migrant or seasonally occurring species, without being overly burdensome for my time management needs.
But again, that’s just the balance that I’ve arrived at.


Well, while i’m not currently aware of all the differents ways in which iNat data is used for reasearch, i’m pretty confident in the fact that no one use it to assess species local abundance.
Citizen science programs data suffer from many biais, one of them being uneven sampling effort in different locality. So i don’t think anyone will use data such as number of observation of a species in a locality, etc.
Posting one a month is a good idea, i would sugger you to post the “earliest” and “latest” observation too, because seasonality can be assessed based on those data. And posting it for many differents places is even better.

What’s more,we have to keep in mind that picture storage systems pollute a lot, and that posting anything you take a photo of can be somewhat harmful.


The only “official” guideline around this I know of is to post an observation of each individual no more than once per day at a location unless something drastically changes (it pupates, is preyed upon, etc.). Other than that it’s up to you!

I agree with @wyketaure that researchers will not blindly be using iNat data as a measure of abundance (and if they are, maybe they shouldn’t be researchers…). Ultimately, we can’t predict and aren’t responsible for how others use iNat data, so I wouldn’t worry too much about that (as long as observations are accurate/not fake).


As long as you don’t post like twenty observations of the same individual bird taken 2 seconds apart, the only rule is “Do whatever you feel like”. Without knowing who is going to be using the data for what purpose eventually, there’s no way to tailor it to be more “useful”. Maybe someone wants to know what time of day house finches are most likely to visit birdfeeders in your climate, or wants to do a study of feather pattern variations.

Also, remember that whatever sampling method you decide to use, your observations are one drop in a huge bucket of people all using different criteria for what they decide to upload. Observation bias is unavoidable on a platform like iNat, and any researcher worth their salt knows that, so I wouldn’t worry too much about it.


The observations show that an individual of that species is present in that location on that day of that year. If you observe the species every day you create a record of the days it is present, which has value in the dataset. More importantly, if it is fun for you and keeps you engaged with the community, then do it. Birds aren’t remotely short on willing IDers so it doesn’t clog anything up on that end.

I think the fact that inat averages over such an enormous number of ways people are using it is precisely what makes the dataset broadly useful. Lack of any objective standard of usefulness automatically prevents pathological optimization to that standard, so it doesn’t accidentally make future unanticipated uses of the data more difficult.

I think once per day is a good rule of thumb for plants and other things that don’t generally move, though for animals that can move ‘time of day’ could also be an interesting data point in some cases. One case that comes to mind is audio observations of cicadas or bird calls at different times of day could be interesting. As long as you aren’t being truly ridiculous like with 100 observations separated by 2 second intervals I think its fine.


iNaturalist never had the pretense of accurately representing population densities with its observation numbers. It’s only natural that some extremely abundant species will be underrepresented and some rarer species will be more represented depending on how easy it is to photgraph them.
There is also no rule against observing the same organism twice at different times.
If someone looks at your observations and gets the wrong idea about the population density of certain birds in your area it’s not your responibility.


i would be more concerned about annoying identifiers than confusing data analysts. there are people who are passionate about identifying observations. put yourself into their shoes, and decide what you think would be a reasonable threshold for encountering the same kind of observation periodically.

a few other ideas to avoid annoying identifiers (not a complete list):

  • if you’re making an observation, try to identify it as something, even if it’s a high level taxon… and don’t just identify it as whatever the first computer vision suggestion is (unless you actually think that’s what it actually is).
  • if you’re taking multiple photos of an individual organism at a given spot/time, just make sure to combine the photos into one observation.
  • flag non-wild things as not wild so that they end up in the casual bucket

In my opinion, please don’t cool it on anyone else’s account!

A few thoughts:

  • iNaturalist isn’t just about the data, iNat is also here to help people connect with nature, even people who sit by their window. There are even people who can’t leave their backyard, and of course we want to help them connect with nature and use iNaturalist.
  • Every photo that you upload may improve our computer vision suggestion (photos of rarer taxa help more, but every photo helps)
  • Repeated studies of a specific area over long periods of time can also be helpful to researchers.

5 posts were split to a new topic: How are photos selected for CV training?

:smile: there are two ways to read this …


The way I explained the site/app to my kids when I first started tinkering with it was that it is to document a specific thing at a specific place. So basically just “this thing was here at this time”. It’s obviously a super simplified version but they were 8 and 10 so it was a very digestible concept. I know there’s more to it, especially now, but I think it’s correct still. If you see a thing and you want to share it, you can. Even if it’s the same thing that was there yesterday or a month ago. You don’t have to but you also don’t have to share anything you don’t want to share, repeat or not.


Have you joined the home gardens project?


Thanks for the feedback y’all. I will probably cut down a bit on common species observations, but it’s good to know I’m not hurting anything

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Well, remember, you are just recording observations, not conducting a census/total count. The numbers on this site are more indicative of how observable the wildlife is, how often the wildlife is seen, and/or how often the wildlife captured on camera, rather than the population numbers.

Sometimes it lines up, there are many American robins in North America and likewise many observations, but there are a lot more deer mice than bison, and yet there are 4x as many bison observations on this site because it is much easier to find and photograph a bison than a deer mouse, even though it is a more uncommon animal in terms of population and distribution. So, in my opinion, what you are doing already is perfect if you have the time and motivation because you are documenting exactly what this site calls for and provides data for in exchange.


After reading all your thoughts and suggestions, I’m now more confident in uploading common birds that visit me in my backyard. I’ve counted 3 or 4 mockingbirds, 2 or 3 caracara chimangos, 1 crested caracara, 2 or 3 great kiskadees (dunno if it’s a regular noun), 2 or 3 rufous horneros, 2 eared doves, many burrowing parakeets, two picazuro pigeons, like 20 common sparrows and two rufous-collared sparrow. I’ve got loads of photos and I wasn’t sure whether I should upload them or not because they are always the same specimens, so this thread helped me too.


This may not work for you, but one thing i do to help me feel like I’m offseting all my leafhopper photos (since there can be a lot of repeats due to many lookalikes) is try to identify at least 1-2 things. That way, both bases are covered.

Honestly, if you’re uploading them correctly and IDing your own to the best of your ability (even if it’s just ‘bird’) that’s valuable info.


One advantage, with some species, is that it may show migration into or out of an area - for example the dates a Hummingbird is seen at a location which can help with migration patterns.


I say go ahead, just (as already said) not the same bird 20 times a day. Same bird each day? Sure.

In my research, I need to document adult appearances, count, etc. I use iNat as an incidental/ data point as well, and sometimes the observations (out of typical observation period, out of known range) surprises me. So yeah, post away.

“But it’s just a dumb robin” well that attitude (which I too held) on my focus species complex is why 50 years later we’re still trying to figure out the period, occurrance, and range of a butterfly [complex] you see every day (in season.)


Maybe this doesn’t happen as often with animals, but with plants, it’s common to have a group of kids (20-30 users) photograph 1 plant from different angles, (see @sedgequeen’s comment in another topic) and these observations can be pretty unenjoyable to identify.

I certainly feel guilt-free posting as many Marrubium vulgare as I like, especially after having identified more than a few of the above kind of observations.

Besides, you give more than you take, with your identifications outnumbering your observations. Maybe posting whatever you want can be treated like a perk of being an identifier?

Granted, I’m making the argument that someone else’s potentionally objectionable behavior justifies one’s own possibly annoying behavior.