Should observations that only include audio recording of birds be annotated as "organism" or "track"?

I was having this conversation in which me and another iNat user were discussing if bird song audio recordings should be annotated as “organism” or “track” in the Evidence of Presence category.

My thinking is that getting an audio recording of a live animal is the same as getting a photo of a live animal. (Even a dead one). My understanding of @Marcello’s argument is that since the bird is creating sounds, its track. As in, the organism is somehow creating and leaving a print on the abstract airspace around it. And, since photos are a recording of a passive phenomenon (light bouncing off an organism), they are not track, but instead evidence of the organism itself.

Again, I think that differentiating audio and visual observations based on the origin of the waves (light/sound) that your device records makes little intuitive sense. Thoughts? Are there other posts discussing this topic?


I might leave it without an annotation at all, but I think “track” is definitely incorrect. People looking for observations annotated with “track” will not be looking for bird songs.

One reason that I would consider leaving it without an annotation, is that it is already possible to filter for observations with sounds, so I don’t know what adding the annotation gets you (though there may be some benefit).


I can’t remember enough to search on it, but on a recent forum thread me and multiple others who were on the fence ended up firmly on Team Organism. Perhaps a new option of a 5th one (“Audio”) would help one day…


Definitely don’t do track. If you mouseover the annotation values you’ll see their definitions, eg


Organism seems OK to me, but definitely don’t feel the need to annotate something unless the annotation value fits it. There are plenty of observations to annotate, and as @cthawley said it’s already easy to find observations with sounds.


Awesome thank you. Also a note, (and this may be the wrong place to post this), my hover text for track just says Track. I’m using Google Chrome “Version 114.0.5735.199 (Official Build) (64-bit)” on Windows 11 Home version 21H2

Edit: Just submitted this bug


I went to have a look for that old thread; somehow the phrase “audio track organism” didn’t find it.
It did however find many interesting threads touching on the same issue. Should anybody be in the mood to while away a few mins on old interesting forum threads that should hopefully do the trick.

The audio recording itself is not a trace, but evidence of the real-time presence of the organism.

The difference between trace and evidence of the real-time presence of the organism is that when we document a “trace”, the organism is not present at that moment.

In this sense, if we were able to record an audio from an exoplanet from planet Earth, that would definitely be a track, because the moment of our recording would be very (…) deferred from the emission.

In any case, coming to more practical matters, when instead, for particularly delicate matters, I happened to attach an audio track and the relative sonogram together, in that case I used “track”, to indicate to the artificial intelligence “not take this image into account, because it does not represent the organism, but only a trace of it”.


On a previous thread, I pointed out that photos are a record of light waves, and audio recordings are a record of sound waves. Humans generally value sight over sound, but both are a direct record of one individual at one time. I’m guessing that if humans valued sound over sight (intelligent bats?), we would be having the direct opposite discussion.



thats the one I remember! thanks

I was just about to say the same thing!

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Yes this is an issue I run into in the birding community in general. The valuing of sight over sound. Not only is sound an incredibly important tool for a naturalist interested in birds, it also seems ableist to value visual recordings over audio ones. Plenty of birders out there who can’t see the birds and can only use sound.

I also think that live spectrogram readings, like Merlin Sound ID, allow deaf birders to still bird by sound, but through reading sonograms. I listened to an interview once from an older birder who had lost some range in his hearing but was still able to identify warblers by sound by reading live spectrograms on his recording device.


It’s a longshot, but I have come across in the field, once or twice, the sight of somebody playing bird songs/calls on their phones to (I’m assuming) elicit responses from real birds.

I know that this is considered a harmful practice, for good reasons, but even before phones, many birders out there practiced making calls or other sounds to do much the same thing. Though, I presume, probably not at a high enough fidelity level to fool the computer recognition tools.

Would it be theoretically possible that some of the submitted observations to date are actually recordings of someone else’s recordings, or imitated calls?

This also makes me wonder about how many marginal waterfowl zoom shots are photos of very good decoys. Or what about artificial plants?

Possible authenticity problems are probably very small, so are they even worth worrying about?

Also, I have also come across bird recordings that include photos. What happens when they don’t match?

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I’m not enough of a birder to know about the frequency of such potential mistakes. I think it’s reasonable to assume that they happen (the decoy one seems very plausible) but at a fairly low frequency such that they aren’t too important.

For the mismatched sound and photo observation, it should be IDed to the most specific common taxonomic level (like family or whatever) that the two pieces of evidence share, just like another mixed species observation. I would also suggest leaving a comment to explain the situation, and asking the observer to delete one of the mismatched pieces of evidence and make it into a new observation so that both can be IDed separately.

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