Should iNat obscure birds hidden/not hidden in eBird?

I see eBird users use exact GPS coordinates all the time.

Having species auto-obscured when they shouldn’t be is a huge problem, as it can make observations appear where they shouldn’t, obscured observations are often unhelpful to scientists. These false coordinates export to GBIF too, causing all sorts of problems.

I really didn’t want to discuss the problems with auto-obscuring here though, I just wanted to throw this idea out there and see what other thought of it.

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An interesting parallel occurs in british columbia with plants. The most comprehensive source for plant ranges is e-flora bc, which gives range and location markers for pretty much all plant species. Pretty much everything that is obscured in inat is visible on e flora. In some cases, obscuring plant species locations seems like a somewhat damaging policy, particularly in species that are very local and threatened by habitat loss, in which knowing about unmapped locations of the things would seem like a good way to avoid building over them. Howell’s montia is a decent example. It’s not a very common plant, and it’s tiny. It’s not likely to be targeted for gardens in any way for the simple reason that it looks like an overgrown moss. However, it can grow in areas which are often developed (open seashore meadows). On the subject of birds, I will add that some things are obscured in BC which seem rather redundant. Marbled murrelet is one which always perplexes me. They are most definitely a species of concern, but the primary problem facing them is clearcut logging, which is if anything, going to be reduced by the known presence of murrelets. With that said, there are some species which are understandably obscured. I wonder if it would be reasonable to set up a rough set of guidelines on how susceptible a species is to targeted human disturbance, and use that as a basis for what gets obscured and what doesn’t.

Unfortunately iNat curators have our hands tied when it comes to sensibly modifying geoprivacy statuses in British Columbia. More here:


That’s kind of ironic, given that things like vancouver island beggarticks are obscured on inat, but locations are freely available on the conservation data center imap.

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In my region of Canada (Northwestern Ontario), eBird does not obscure the nesting locations of Piping Plover. Piping Plover has a conservation ranking of Critically Imperiled in Ontario.

There is ample evidence about the threats to Piping Plover nests. This document describes the situation of Piping Plovers in my region. I strongly believe that critically-imperiled species should have their nest locations auto-obscured. iNat does this - for example:

The poor Piping Plovers on Lake of the Woods need every chance we can give them.

There was a good debate about iNat’s sensitive species filters in Canada (mentioned earlier in this thread) and I have no concerns about how those filters have been implemented in my region. Given that iNat only obscures location - not the other details of a record - the site’s privacy framework for my area is a rational, flexible and proportionate response.

Just my .02 worth, thank you for listening.


Thank you for this response. This is the kind of thing I was looking for.

I am sure the eBird sensitive species list isn’t perfect, but the iNat obscuration list is far from perfect as well and I am inclined to think that eBird’s list has less problems. If there is truly something that should be obscured here that isn’t on eBird I think these should be discussed on a case-by-case basis, but I think obscuring Piping Plover in Ontario on iNat will have no effect as long as the locations can be viewed on eBird.

Not that anyone on here can do anything about the statuses on Canada anyway, though.

Could you expand on this - I’m not sure I understand the problem here. You are saying that auto-obscuring leads to incorrect localities in GBIF?

Gbif uses the randomized coordinates but clearly notes in a box called information withheld that this is the case

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Yep - that was what prompted my question. The GBIF spatial data are likely lower precision than what is entered into iNaturalist, but they aren’t incorrect as far as I am aware.

Obscuring often makes species appear to live in areas that they don’t, and this can actually hinder the species more than help it, especially endangered species that aren’t threatened by poaching or disturbance, as then researchers can’t tell where they actually do occur.

I suspect very few researchers are doing work that requires meter specific accuracy of location. If they do need it, EBird records of birds in GBIF outnumber iNaturalist contributions by a factor of 150:1 (705 million v 4.7 million).

Any professional researcher is going to evaluate any potential outliers and most importantly research their dataset to understand its components.

Obscuring does not make species ‘appear to live in areas that they don’t’ because it is clearly stated in the record that the sighting is within a defined area, not a precise gps location. Anyone who fails to recognize that, the failure is theirs for not researching their dataset.

The biggest and most important global biodiversity aggregator (GBIF themselves) have no issue accepting records with known obscured locations.

Birds in North America have their conservation status set based on their breeding status, not abundance at a particular time of year.

I’m not convinced by the agument that because another site does it differently we should follow. If that is the case, we should simply turn off all obscuring, after all you will always be able to find a source where exact locations are discussed/disclosed.

iNat should do what is best for iNat users, the science, the site, but most importantly what is best for the animals and plants themselves.


It is simply not true that “you will always be able to find a source where exact locations are discussed/disclosed”. Most birds that are hidden in eBird don’t have their exact locations published outside of the site.

“iNat should do what is best for iNat users, the science, the site, but most importantly what is best for the animals and plants themselves”

I agree - and obscuring species that do not need to be obscured does more harm than good. The vast majority of auto-obscured birds on iNat do not need to be auto-obscured. eBird offers a good list of what should be obscured. If there are some other species not on the eBird list that we think should be obscured on iNat, we could still obscure them, but in the end this action is probably pointless.

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What exact harm do you think it does ?

Any researcher using the dataset will know what the data is and use it accordingly, and if they dont that error is theirs.

Not making it easier for people is find something is not harm in my eyes.

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To me, It seems like there is a reasonably consistent theme in the responses to your posts. I hope you are finding it helpful?


The problem of auto-obscuring species that don’t need to be obscured that many of them are species that researchers will want to study, and they won’t be able to see where these species are truly occurring. species that aren’t threatened by poaching or disturbance, as then researchers can’t tell where they are actually occurring. I understand that some species need to be obscured because they are threatened by poaching or disturbance, but the vast majority of species that are obscured do not face these threats.

Now back on topic, people generally seem to dislike the idea of iNat following eBird for what bird species to obscure, but I haven’t heard to many reasons why they are against it.

The biggest single difference is few eBird records give an exact location, which is especially important in protecting breeding birds. It is one thing to say there is a warbler nesting somewhere in a park or along a trail versus giving to the meter directions on where it is.

The potential for disturbance to birds is significantly higher from records in iNat than it is from eBird.

Yes, both sites can have comments with directions etc. but the ease of facilitating disturbance is much greater from iNat records.

If iNat would set up ‘place based’ reporting, ie being able to document something as present in a park etc, or even temporal based obscuring so that for example rare breeders (which again is what conservation listing for birds in North America are based on) are visible in migration seaon, but obscured in breeding etc it would make a difference, but none of these are offered.

This record is far less prone to causing disturbance than this

They are the same nest, I am only sharing because the nest is so well known locally that no disclosure here impacts it. If you want to go search the thousand of trees in the cemetery trying to find the one based on the eBird lists which are pinned in the cemetary at large, not the exact spot, knock yourself out. Telling people the exact tree does no benefit.


Thank you for this reply! I think perhaps you are underestimating the number of eBird checklists giving the exact location of nesting sites, although it is true that most do not. However, it certainly seems like most iNat observations don’t, either! It seems (to me anyway) that most observations have an entire park or even city inside their circle, though maybe that’s just my mind playing tricks on me.

[citation needed]

Did you read my entire post?

“though maybe that’s just my mind playing tricks on me”

I do encourage you to look around at some of the observations on the Explore page though, and see how many truly show a specific spot vs a larger area.

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