How much time should elapse before making a separate observation?

Examples might be a banded (or otherwise distinguishable) bird returning to a feeder several times through the day, or a nursing mammal seen returning to her young every few hours, an observed animal that is still at the same observation site several hours later.

How much time should elapse to consider these observations separate?

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I would say that if you put away your camera and then got it out again, then it’s a new observation. Also, something has to have changed to make it relevant, such as the going away and returning aspect. To help others to not be confused, I would clearly put in the description the reason for the “same day/place” observation, but if anyone challenges you on it, just let them know you understand the rules and want the observations to stand regardless.


Actually, I was curious about the same thing because I once returned to an organism a month or two later for a second observation, and was asked to delete it and merge the two observations by a very experienced identifier. Their reasoning I think was that not much had changed and having two separate observations creates the impression of duplicate organisms. I pointed out the site rules and they said that many users disagree with those rules and ignore them. Is that a common viewpoint?

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My take on this.

I would not add an observation of the same thing for the same day. e.g. a bird returning to the nest repeatedly to feed the chicks.

However, if said bird this week is building the nest.
Next week there is 1 egg, and the following two.
Thereafter the chicks hatching, and through their different stages, up to leaving the nest.
Adding an obs for each stage and you document it in the description (and maybe link the different obs), it creates a timeline of events. This is valuale information.

Plants would be the same. This month growing, next budding, following flower, and then seed. Again this creates a seasonal timeline.


In general, if you are sure is the same individual, I would link obs to one another. I am planning to do that for plants for instance.
As for the same species in different individuals, I have set no limit as for instance I am sometimes interested in understanding the variability of habitus of a specific species across individuals.


The rules are that so long as there has been some sort of change, or a day has passed, you may submit the same organism as many times as you like. Regardless of what others may want.
It’s impossible to know what data will be useful, in the end. Don’t worry about it too much, just try to have fun observing! :)


The rules [edit: guidelines] are what the rules [edit: guidelines] are and you are right to do anything that fits those rules [edit: guidelines]. No one should make up their own rules and then try to enforce them. However, it would become very tedious if many iNat observers posted a house sparrow, or starling, or radish (or other common organism) every 15 minutes (or even every hour or day). I suspect there would be a revolt and the rules [edit: guidelines] would be changed. I think Shauns take is very reasonable. And here’s how to link multiple observations of the same individual organism as edolis suggested, if you’d like to do that:


24 hours, another day…

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each day for every individul. So you can post different individual birds, like 50 sparrows each day, but no duplicates for each of them. I don’t like when people messing up with data and post something on the same place for 10 times each day. The only case when I thinkit’s ok if 24 hours haven’t passed if you saw something at night and then next evening - not a day between officially, but makes sense.

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As far as I know you should not combine photos taken on different days of the same wild organism.


Tell that identifier they’re wrong. You’re the one who decides what to post.


I see a lot of comments here and in iNat about “if it’s same day, it should be one observation”…

I remember a project about wildlife reactions before, during and after an eclipse…✓

Sorry guys, but there are legitimate reasons for doing so, and hard and fast rules break iNat. They are guidelines, and everyone should try and understand the reason for the guidelines, and consider them whenever they post an observation, but please don’t let stupid rules get in the way of some great and interesting observations!


So you can post 50 sparrows each day. But how do you (or me) know these are separate individuals? Some animals can be recognised by a scar. I would say this is pointless. Many people are submitting 5 or 10 observations of the same individual which can be recognised by a scar (Photographed a few second apart). Or what about a head and a tail photo of the same kwagga?

You’re the one who sees them so you decide it. Usually if it’s a different place big chances that those are different individuals. Tail and head of the same mammal is 1 individual.


I should have added it is the same branch they are sitting in the space of a minute.

If you can’t see morphological differences I wouldn’t post them separately; that’s easy, if chances for 1 individual are big than post photos together, if not, than separate.

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I’ve got kind of a different problem. It’s midwinter here in Manitoba, and there are only a few kinds of birds in the bush. So I take pictures of the same things (more or less) every day, just to document their presence. Some days I’ll take a photo of, say, a Hairy Woodpecker, and then a short distance away I’ll see one that looks the same. If I manage to get a photo of it I have no idea if it’s the same bird, or different. Or if the birds I see daily are the same ones. I rarely manage to get two shots of any species (cold and their propensity to move around quickly), but I have posted them as separate observations on occasion.


iNaturalist is used for different things by different people. So I’m not here telling anyone what it should mean for them. For me, I see the community aspect of it more than the personal aspect. So I post things that I think are meaningful to the greater community more so than to myself. If I’ve documented something at a location once this month, I don’t see the value in documenting it twice. On occasion, depending on the species, I might have a good reason for doing it though. On most occasions, I just don’t see much value in sharing with the community that a particular species was seen at a particular location several times in one day (or even month). If I can justify why it’s worth the cost of iNat bandwidth and server space, then I would post it, if not, I wouldn’t.


Post what interests you. If you want to post multiple observations of the same species the same day at the same place, you can. If you actually want to post 50 photos of one species of sparrow in one day at one place, day after day, you can, though I recommend developing a life outside iNaturalist. However, there are worse ways to spend one’s time.


My personal guideline (intention, goal) is, not more than one observation of a given species per day per place*, unless there are differences in appearance (adult/juvenile, flower/fruit, etc.). If I want to post more (per day & place) I usually combine them in a single observation, despite iNaturalist guidelines that one observation should be about one individual. However, sometimes I post them as separate observations, if there’s something I want to show or if I want to provide an indication of how many individuals are present. I could see posting separate observations to show how often adult birds visit a nest, though I don’t have the patience to post very many.

  • “place” is variably defined for me, sometimes a whole park, sometimes a habitat within that park, sometimes my neighborhood, sometimes my yard.