Ethics check in on adding photos and sexing by behavior

I came to iNaturalist (and love it) because eBird can be competitive and frustrating. (I still eBird, but anonymously.) Thank you for giving me a home here! But one thing I wish iNat had was a place to log typical behaviors (foraging, flying, etc.) and different types of evidence of breeding. Particularly troubling is singing birds. (And possibly frogs? I don’t know). And is singing evidence of sex/gender? It seems to vary by species and thoughts on this seem to be in flux: old school is that only males sing, but how well documented is that assumption?

Also, is it ok to add photos of the exact same individual organism at the exact same time and location after ID? I’m thinking of when I find a much better photo or accompanying audio after my observation is research grade. (TYSVM, IDers!) I do my best, but it can be hard to balance time outside with going through media. TY.


This is really species dependent. For example, Northern Cardinals of both sexes sing, but Red-winged Blackbird females typically don’t sing (at least they don’t sing the con-ga-ree! of the males; they have a distinct reply “song” depending on how you define a song vs. a call). As you alluded, there are many species where it is not known to what extent females sing.

As long as you are certain the individual is the same, I think it is fine to update observations with additional photos/audio even after the observation is research grade. If you want, you could even add a comment stating that you added additional photos in case any previous IDer wanted to review, but I don’t think that is strictly necessary if you didn’t want to bother.


You could look for some relevant observation fields to add data on behaviors or of course just include in notes or comments.

I agree that singing or not as evidence depends widely on the species. There’s lots of recent work showing that singing in female birds is more widespread than previously assumed. Examples:
So I would not use the presence of singing as a general determinant of sex without specific knowledge that it is a trait only shown by one sex in that species.

And yes, it’s fine to edit observations later to include additional photos or audio, though I think it’s a good idea to add a comment noting that you have done so. I’ve seen observations where photos have been added/deleted after upload (with no mention) and the comments and identification order can be very confusing. A bonus effect of this is that IDers may revisit the observation to chime in/update IDs and you’ll get more of a response.


I’ll add my 2¢ here, as far as determining gender based on sound. In some cases there is a pretty solid consensus, for example with cicadas. Male cicadas have an organ that they use to make calls, whereas females lack this organ. As such, any cicada calls/song/etc must be from males, and is evidence of gender.* I’m sure there are a lot of similar examples. I’m not well versed when it comes to birds, but IMO if there’s any ambiguity for a particular species I wouldn’t consider vocalizations evidence of gender.

Also, things change. Organisms get reclassified taxonomically all the time, and the iNat observations get update accordingly. On an observation level, incorrect IDs get corrected all the time. I’m just a layman, I get ID wrong all the time. Depending on my level of confidence I’ll submit an observation at a species level, or back it up to the genus if I’m less confident. I’ve also familiar with some of the experts that frequent iNat, so I’ll ping them for their opinion.

There really isn’t a hard line here, I think. Do your best to submit accurate info, be reasonably responsible and use common sense, and have fun.

* Except the clicking that some female cicada species do by flapping their wings together, but this is easily distinguished from cicada calls/songs, and not loud enough to hear unless you have the cicada right in front of you, in which case you can make a visual determination of gender.


Super cool information about cicadas, epic2112! And I guess my discomfort with birds is that this is a field that is changing fairly rapidly. Probably ok to leave gender/sex blank, and thanks for the perspective. With tens of thousands of IDs, I’d hate to go back and check and try to fix! (Although I usually don’t add annotations.)

Bugs are amazing.


The only thing better than your comment is that it includes links to articles! Thank you so much.

And I don’t know why adding a comment eluded me. That makes a lot of sense. I’ve not been doing that, but will going forward. And I’m glad I’ve not been behaving badly. It’s not usually a big issue, but spring migration has me super behind with photos.

I really appreciate the comment and solution.


Thanks, @swampster! I know I’ve missed a few, but none that were tricky IDs. Also, I’m going to go check out female Red-winged Blackbird reply calls! Such cool birds with so many vocalizations, and I need to find out which this is. Fortunately there should be plenty in the field this weekend as well…

1 Like

As others have already said, bird vocalizations vary a lot between species. (I’ve seen studies suggesting females sing in least 70% of songbird species).
I just wanted to add that they sometimes vary a lot between individuals of the same species as well - I once owned a chicken that did the classic “rooster crow” every morning despite being an otherwise normal egg-laying hen.
Then there’s black-headed grosbeaks, which share egg incubation duties… but sometimes if the male is slacking off, the female will start singing a “male” song from the nest. When he rushes over to look for the male intruder, she goes “Oh, as long as you’re here, sit of these eggs a while will you?” and takes off to do her thing.


You may also wish to note that many male insects copulate somewhat indiscriminately, including with conspecific males and inanimate objects.


I always report birds to eBird and if I have a photo to iNat as well. Sorry to say it here but eBird is better for birds because you do not have to have a photo but can report based on “heard” or behaviour features and the data is much better for science because factors such as mapped location and “effort” are taken into account. For science eBird is much better than iNat and science is, IMHO, what this is really all about … otherwise we are just trans spotting and stamp collecting.

1 Like

(what are you spotting?)

Both platforms have pros and cons associated with each, but that is a topic that has already been covered at length in a different thread: iNaturalist vs eBird.


I kept songbirds when I was a teenager. It is possible to differentiate male and female songbirds based on its calls. There are so many species that I’ve not seen them all. From the few species I’ve kept before, males are more flamboyant, with better stamina, much bigger range of expressions in the vocalization. Almost all of the songbirds are males. but I kept a few female spotted doves. They were pets. Capable of the same calls just less stamina, and higher pitch in its voice.
Now I don’t keep birds for many years. Birds are meant to be free. and I got tired of clearing their poop.

1 Like

I somewhat specialize in observing and documenting sightings of Florida Scrub-Jays.

The genders are identical in appearance and usually cannot be accurately sexed even in hand while banding. The only foolproof evidence of gender is a specialized “hiccing” call only done by females. The hiccing is sometimes accompanied by a vertical head point and tail fan. I will note if hiccing is heard when I post an observation of a specific bird. Here’s an example:


That is incredibly cool! Thank you so much for sharing that! I have a feeling there are quite a few nonendangered, less-studied species who have similar behavior differences between the genders. There’s apparently a particular female Red-winged Blackbird call I need to learn as well (although there the appearance if available works well also).

And thank you for sharing that beautiful photo as well.

We have inherited/adopted birds and agree 100 percent on keeping them. We love them, but they belong in the wild.

WRT calls and songs, none of ours are the same species, but I’m delighted to hear this and not surprised. I think we are only beginning to learn the variety of bird vocalizations.

Thanks so much for sharing that.

1 Like

Yes, I do wish to note that! I think copulation and mating behavior is not all that reliable. I read a book about the recovery efforts for the Puerto Rican Amazon, and they had difficulty because some of their very small population pair bonded with birds of the same sex and therefore couldn’t/wouldn’t breed.

1 Like

This topic was automatically closed 60 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.