Long distance birding: what are some of the iNat records for the furthest distanced bird IDs?

I was up on the trail atop the Niagara Escarpment the other day and stopped at a lookout point that overlooks my town, which is on the shore of Lake Ontario.

Just for fun, I thought I would push my little Nikon P950 to its zoom max in birding mode – which kicks things into some digital gears beyond the 2000mm optics.

I was surprised when I focused on the lake just off the park that is in my neighborhood because it picked up the ‘shapes’ of birds I see there almost every day. Longtails, scoters, golden eyes and buffleheads.

At least, that’s what I ‘think’ they are. I don’t think I’ll be adding this shot to my observations any time soon.

Even for the remarkable identification skills of the birder IDers out there, I think it would be too much guesswork.

So that’s at 1.9 km distance, and it made me wonder: what are some of the furthest confirmed visual species ID ever made for birds on iNat?

I’m going to logically guess ostrich or maybe giant albatross for the record. But maybe not? What have you come across so far?


When we drive near Celestún, we can visually identify the flamingos from a good distance (we are all looking for them), so my guess is flamingo for the record!


Of course! Especially in flight.

I’m sure that the larger flocks could be easily identified from miles and miles away.

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For me this is one of the furtherest that I uploaded, sitting higher than trees, I photograph birds up to 5 km way, but I don’t upload them as it’s useless to upload observations with huge radius. https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/72686046

Not a birder, but skeins of cormorants following the coast. The numbers have thinned out a lot since I was a child.

Interesting question! Seabirds are a good guess not only because some are quite large but also because the lack of anything to obscure the view between them and you. For me, I think it has to be Northern Gannets. There are elevated areas by the coast near me where you can stand four miles from the water and still identify them. Their shape, and in particular the black and white pattern of the adults is distinctive and there is nothing locally that shares a similar pattern.

(note that this photo definitely not taken from four miles away)


I didn’t get a picture of the initial encounter, but when I was searching for the last free-ranging California Condors in southern California in the 1980s, we spotted a flight of the three birds at an estimated five to eight miles away with a 30X spotting scope. No other bird, not even other big raptors would be recognizable at that distance, but the size and flight characteristics of the condors allowed for the identification. Somewhere, I have a 35mm slide of those three birds several minutes later when they actually circled right overhead–very high up but very recognizable. I need to find and scan that slide!


Somewhere on iNat there’s a record of a Bald Eagle – I think it was in Oregon – that an iNatter who took the shot mentioned here on the forum and it is only 2-3 pixels (black and white). But it made Research Grade.


You can see flamingos from space apparently. Google Earth has been used to track flocks. They can also trace penguin colonies by the stains on ice caused by the vast quantities of guano they produce. Not many iNatters will have their own satellites though sadly.

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Hmm. My birthday is just a few months away…

But probably… not.


This reminds me a lot of my work as a corporate graphic designer.

We’d be designing the programs or posters for some big event that featured some big VIP who would be asked to forward me a photo file of themselves to put in.

Occasionally you’d get some web image crowd shot with a crudely drawn circle over the VIP’s face, which would be about 20 pixels square, or thereabouts.

Then I would have to explain to the VIP’s assistant how resolution works. (I’ve explained this so many times, I want it on my gravestone.)

Although often you’d get an annoyed response along these lines:
“Can’t you find someone there who knows how to use Photoshop?”


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