Multiple birds in the same photo - do I post individually?

I am very new here, but don’t want to start out by being overly annoying with duplicate copies of the same photo in my observations. I’m just unclear on what to do if there are several animals/birds in one photo. For instance: I have a photo with 3 American Coots in it; an adult and 2 juveniles. Do I post this as three separate observations , each with the same photo or should I only post the photo once?
I did search a bit in the forums before posting this question, but I didn’t come across what I was looking for.
Thank you in advance for any help or advice you can provide on this subject. I’m eager to learn and excited to share observations!


You can do either of those things, observation is for one specimen, but you don’t have to post one photo multiple times if you don’t want to.


Thank you so much!

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Technically an observation is supposed to only have one organism, but people generally post group photos of the same species as just one observation. I’m inclined to think this is a good idea, as it avoids, say, 20 observations of the same log of turtles. If you wanted, you could make an observation for the two adults and an observation for the baby, in order to mark one observation as “adult” and the other as “baby” for the search function. Or you could just make one observation. It’s up to you.


Definitely not as three separate observations. If there are multiple specimens of the same species and at the same life stage in the photo, then there really is no reason to post it multiple times as separate observations for each specimen. You can create separate observations for the adult and the juveniles as already mentioned, but, imo, it’s still unnecessary.

Why is that? On the contrary…

As is stated here:

An observation records an encounter with an individual organism at a particular time and location.

So, if she wants, she can post every one of the individuals in one picture. That would give much more info than just one single observation.


Yes strictly speaking each observation should depict a single individual. In practice people don’t always do that (myself included).

That’s not to say that you can’t post group photos. For example you might have a couple of detailed or close up shots of an individual, and include a group shot to show the context (ideally with the individual clearly indicated).

The real power of the single individual per observation is that the annotations can be used unambiguously to record the individual’s life stage etc. After all it’s not really obvious how you would annotate life stage on an observation containing a single group photo if the photo depicts a number of individuals at different life stages.

As for whether you really need to post an observation for every individual in a group—well, that’s really up to you. There’s probably no need unless there are unique features or some other quirks you think are important to draw attention to.


Ok, I can agree that in some cases, creating separate observations for each individual in the photo may be justified, but it must be a good reason. Otherwise, it’s simply pointless.

An example from the OP’s observations:
How does that “give much more info than just one single observation”? We don’t even know which individual each observation is of.

Observer always can write a description or alter photo to show which specimen is observation about, then it’s in iNat rules that you can do it, there’s no reason to not do it if a user wants to.

In my opinion, the biggest downside of iNat is that we don’t have a way to actually count individuals. Having a count gives much more info than the mere signaling of the presence of a given species at a given place.

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As appealing as getting more details like counts and population density is, it demands a lot more effort and expertise than what can be expected of the activities that iNat thrives on.

Anybody, of any experience can observe and contribute, even if they know nothing about what they’re observing. A primary goal is to track biodiversity and the observing the presence of one wild specimen does much for that. There may be a way to do both, but engaging people in exploring nature and biodiversity seems to be the most valuable contribution this site provides and anything that complicates things or presents tasks that seem like chores to people who were just curious may hamper that.

I am constantly amazed at this site’s potential to turn ignorance with curiosity into scientifically usable information and examples to learn from.


The original intent of this website in the interest of science is to record observations of organisms in a certain location and time to provide more information on the species’ whereabouts and population. This would mean that the most important pieces of info are time, location, proper ID, and count. Since iNaturalist records each observation as 1 count, the correct way to do this is to post separate observations for each individual in the picture. 1 cool workaround, which I don’t know if people do, I just thought of this, is to crop each individual out of the picture and post your 3 coots separately having been cropped from the other 2 in each picture.

However, it should be noted that the crowd-sourced nature of iNaturalist has deviated from its original vanilla and traditional naturalistic intentions and functionality. You can see earlier posts in this thread speaking to the redundancy of posting multiple of the same pictures, and while that is an obvious conclusion for ordinary non-naturalists, it also lacks an understanding of the objectives of being a naturalist. Considering that pictures of multiple individuals posted under one observation only occur often, then at this point, functionally, it really doesn’t matter anymore. Nobody will blame you for going with the flow [probably].


It probably makes a lot more sense to treat an encounter with a group as a single observation. It is not useful to see 20 observations of the same group of tadpoles.

If people feel strongly about this, it wouldn’t be difficult to add an optional field for the number of individuals observed (which would be much more useful than submitting the same information multiple times). Or, absent this, to statistically sample the number of individuals in the photos to get the average number per observation for each species.

I understand that and I’m not saying that should be mandatory, but it would be nice to have some kind of count annotation field, just like we have to life stage and sex.

We have an observation field for count, there will be no annotation as it will require the change in website politics and will go over already gathered data which contains many individuals of the same species on the same date/spot.

It’s not the same. A count annotation would always be associated with every observation. I noticed that they recently created an annotation for “presence evidence” (something like that… I’m translating directly from the portuguese expression). That is also going over already gathered data… any innovation will step over the old form. Isn’t that what science do?

Just as I usually don’t annotate the sex of invertebrates, as I’m not familiar with that group, people would not use the count if they don’t feel able to do so. But some would do it and I really think it would be an useful small improvement…

Well, now you have people saying thinks like this:

Isn’t this against the website politics (one record = one individual)?

I guess there isn’t a perfect form that fit every users vision of what iNat sould be…

No, it’s not the same at all, if I have 2 observation of a crow of the same time/place, and in each one in annotation I’ll add that there were e.g. 4 of them, how many crows will a system recognize? It will say 8 for sure were there. If I only uploaded one crow it would be right - 4 crows only. Or I would think it’s tricky and write 1 on one observation and 3 on the other, now it doesn’t make much sense, were they in different groups to be divided such way? And what if I wrote 2 on each one, were there 2 or 4 in the end?
New annotation is discussed here

Well, if we would have a way to count individuals, there were no need to post it as independent observations…

Or it would be easily resolved by developing a way to link one observation to another. There are ways to do almost anything… I’m guessing iNat just don’t want to. And it’s fair enough, as resolving one problem would create another… and so on. Good thing this is not the only platform of “citizen science” and people can choose what suits them better.

For most groups, iNat works fine for me, as I only take a few pictures of a few individuals. For birds it would be insane to depend on it, as I regularly count hundreds of individuals of dozens of species (and still take only a few pictures of it). For this I have better suited platforms, but I’m guessing some people do the same with other groups (e.g. butterflies)… that’s why I would like to have the possibility to count in iNat.

But I’m ok with the status quo. :wink:

Thank you for the link.

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As an identifier I hate those situations when multiple organisms are posted as one observations when they don’t look entire the same. I know, ‘entirely’ is a fuzzy work and that’s the core of the problem.

Often people post one observation for multiple organisms because they THINK it’s one species, but they are wrong. Can often be fixed by telling them.

Worse: Sometimes they may be right, but I can only ID one of them, not the other. (Happens often with different life stages in one image.) In that case I shrug and move on. Sort of sad with observations that have been sitting in the needs ID pool for months or even years (possibly because others have run into that problem too).

So I strongly suggest to post as multiple observations as soon as there is the slightest doubt about all belonging to the same species, always when different life stages are involved.

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Again, I say it will not work with old data, not new one.