Escaped pets with no established population

I searched the forum and found little discussion of this, so I’d like people’s opinion and a consensus if possible. Should escaped pets get the thumbs down or thumbs up on the Organism is wild field?

As an example, if I see a blue Budgerigar fly up into a tree here in Los Angeles and I snap a photo, I will mark it as captive. There is no established population here and the individual is likely going to die quickly. The casual observation is still valuable for tracking the species but separates it from birds in their native range and established non-native populations. But, I’m not sure if this is the approach I should be taking. If this is spelled out somewhere and I’ve missed it, please direct me to where this is outlined.

I’m bringing this up because two users have decided that all escaped pet birds should be research grade, and are apparently teaming up to override user’s decisions to make them casual. My gut tells me they shouldn’t do this, but I don’t actually know if it’s wrong.

Thanks, hoping for a constructive discussion.

I would just comment to the users that they can remove the observation from community ID and then it will be casual.

Normally it is the other side of the coin voiced here though. Someone wanting some to reach RG and it gets switched to captive.

Me, not being a birder, it would be a wild blue bird that got uploaded. :)

Marking them as “captive” would be incorrect, since they are no longer in captivity.
There is also a possibility that the organism could be part of a small undocumented population.


Don’t confuse “wild” with “not-native” or “invasive”.

The wild indicator generally applies to anything that’s not actively being raised or kept captive at that time. That said, there are a lot of differences of opinion about this on iNat and the issue doesn’t seem to be explicitly laid out in the guidelines due to the strongly held differences of opinion.

I’d mark it as wild and note in the comments that it is likely an escaped pet. From there the community as a whole can decide the next steps.

It’s worth noting that Los Angeles has a surprisingly large and well established reproductively active wild population of all sorts of exotic birds that one would not expect to survive in that climate.


Some overlap with the discussion at

As noted there, I think of escaped or released captive birds as free rather than wild, mainly because they often have lower survival rates than birds bred in the wild. So I make a distinction because they’re not necessarily equivalent ecologically. But there are a lot of differing opinions on this topic!

The term I’ve heard used, though not commonly, for an escaped or liberated captive that is out of range is a waif. It implies an isolated or uncommon case of introduction where the animal likely won’t survive. Of course, if you have enough waifs in a given area you might end up with an established (breeding) introduced population.


I wouldn’t intentionally try to make these observations casual by marking as captive. Freed pets (whether escaped or released intentionally) are a principle way that non-native species become established. As such, these types of observations can be really valuable. In invasion biology one of the hardest types of data to come by is failed introductions (because individuals are rare or die before they are detected), so someone could use these data.

I also don’t see much functional difference between an escaped pet and a vagrant that was accidentally transported somewhere which is definitely wild. For example, I study anoles and often see anoles posted from locations where reproducing populations are not yet documented (and potentially unlikely/impossible). Anoles are known to travel via the nursery trade or just by hanging onto cars, but they are also present in the pet trade. Any given anole in a weird location could be either an accidentally transported lizard or an escaped/released pet, but I would never be able to be sure (and thus wouldn’t mark as “captive”). Functionally though, both are equally capable of establishing a population, which is definitely of research interest and a valid observation for iNat.

Also, in a very literal sense, these individuals are no longer captive, even if they are likely to die and/or not reproduce, so I just don’t think the captive mark applies well.

Also, did reading this thread get Freebird stuck in anyone else’s head?


i agree with everything cthawley said, but also im pretty sure a budgie can absolutely survive in LA once out there. arent there a lot of introduced parrot populations in california already?

I would definitely mark the organism as wild. The wild/captive attribute relates to the individual organism, not the species. Here are iNat’s definitions of the two terms:

I’m not sure what you mean here, but rejecting community ID does not make an observation casual.

1 Like

I guess I incorrectly assumed that rejecting community ID would reject community DQA.

No worries, I don’t think it’s particularly clear. Rejecting Community ID mainly does two things:

  • The “observation taxon” (the taxon at the top of the observation) will always be the same as what the observer’s active ID is.

  • The observation won’t reach Research Grade unless the observer’s ID agrees with the Community ID.

Maybe a third definition is needed something like “questionable”? At this point, there would be no way to know if the budgie is a lone escaped pet, or the start of a colony of escaped birds.

I got an observation of an escaped bird. Very recently someone marked it as captive and commented that only established populations get research status. I really don’t care about research grade, but I’m a little bit confused as in iNats definition there is no note about escaped birds.

1 Like

I struggle with this problem all the time in my collection project about Spur-thighed Tortoises in North America. For some reason people like to photograph this species in captivity and post those photos. For that reason, many IDers get frustrated and mark every individual as “Not Wild” and therefore relegate those records to Casual.
As stated above, this obfuscates important data that escaped captives may represent.
I encourage people to use the Observation Field Escapee/Non-established rather than marking it as “Not Wild” if they suspect that is the case.


seems to be contrary to

The organism is clearly wild - it is not in a cage or likely to be in the future. We are assuming that it is a recent escapee - but that is based on knowledge about the species, that it is not established in the area. And this knowledge could be wrong - for example from what I’ve read there are wild populations of white-eyes, Mandarin Duck, whydahs, peacocks and other things in California that are not accepted as established by the bird committees, and therefore often unrecognised.

The help guide is actually ambiguous here - it does not indicate how to treat an outdoor cat, an escaped bird, a spider carried on bananas etc. Maybe this ambiguity is deliberate and necessary, I don’t know. Personally, I would advocate that any animal not in captivity, that is not likely to be captured soon, should be marked as wild. But I know lots of people treat it differently and there are plenty of arguments for that side to. Personally, I would like a “gray area” option for captive/cultivated. But maybe that is a complexity cost that outweighs the benefit.

1 Like

And if it were a dog without a collar?

1 Like

Oh man, that was a typo on my part, I apologize. It’s a wild organism, by iNat’s definition. I’ll amend.

Got it, that makes sense haha

1 Like

Why is a budgie that escaped from a cage yesterday and will die within weeks or months considered more wild than an oak tree that was planted by a person 50 years ago?

Well if you have no evidence that the oak tree was planted, then both should be considered wild. And evidence for planting of trees 50 years ago is quite tricky to come by. Unless the trees still stand in straight lines :wink:.
I think the whole thing is about categories that are easy to apply and therefore also easy to interpret. In a cage, on a leash - “captive”. Neither cage nor leash - “wild”. That´s about it … no handbook needed.

1 Like