'Trusting' description details or needing the evidence visible

Apologies if a similar conversation has been had, but a few searches pulled up nothing.

In the case of an observation photo being detailed enough to know it is one of two species (Species A or B), but the evidence for which of the two is only available via text in the description box, not in the photo, how should this be handled? Should we only ID to the level that is visible in the photos (Genus A), or trust the observer when they say the significant defining feature (visible in person but not in the photo) marks them as Species A?

It seems to me if the observer is well-acquainted enough with the taxa to describe the significant defining feature, they will have accurately reported their in-person observation. This seems comparable to ‘trusting’ descriptions that say ‘the call was definitely X’ or ‘the flight pattern/behaviour was definitely Y’

I know this type of question generally ends with the answer ‘ID to the level you are comfortable with’ but am wondering if there is more of a hardline stance on this or at least a sort of consensus

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Yeah, not really. Different people have different approaches. Some previous discussions about this:


Thanks! Yeah it’s a tricky one and can see it going either way.

I had read through those but don’t think the situation I’m thinking of is described. There undoubtedly is evidence of the bird to the extent you can tell genus, but the only evidence of species is in the description. I’m thinking if the observer was asked about a specific detail and replied ‘Oh I think it was this’ I would lean on caution, but if, as in this case, the observer added in the initial description a very distinct detail that only someone knowledgeable on the taxa would know to include, I’m viewing that as a piece of evidence itself.

The observation for context- not to raise an issue with the other IDer, just had had several similar contested IDs along similar lines with the IDer, and wanted to see the community’s wider opinion if I should lean more that way in future

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Personally, in that situation I trust the observer, since they seem to know what they are talking about. However each identifier will have to decide for themselves whether to do this or not.


I kind of wobble on this one depending on my mood (not very good as a guideline, unfortunately). It’s tricky.

On iNaturalist, we already have to take some non-photographic evidence from the observer as truth–for example, location and date can’t be independently verified, but often help with identification (such as when separating crows). We can also take extra information in the form of fields (such as host plants, which may be identifiable from the photo but not necessarily, or information about the habitat).

Generally speaking, I bring together things like 1) how much I trust this particular observer to know what they’re talking about 2) my gut instinct on the taxa (maybe it’s an empid that can technically be discerned by photo, but it’s difficult, and looking at the photo I’m leaning towards species x, and the notes about the call confirm that) 3) the level of “burden of proof” necessary for the ID (I wouldn’t be comfortable with agreeing to a fish crow ID in California even if the observer said they heard the characteristic call, but I might be swayed for that same observation in Florida) 4) how easy the non-photographed evidence is to accurately judge in the field (I take descriptions of size with a large heaping of salt because people very confidently misjudge the size of birds in the field ALL THE TIME) … etc.

I tend not to disagree on the basis of lack of evidence unless the evidence is actually contradictory, because if someone can upload a Casual photo/sound-less observation with a species ID to catalogue something they saw but couldn’t document, it doesn’t make sense to take that species ID away from them when they have some evidence. But whether or not I agree based on non-photographic/auditory evidence really comes down to my gut feeling after reviewing the above points. Usually I don’t Agree because often I’m not confident, but I do sometimes.

I am of course interested in reading others’ opinions on the topic.


I feel likewise. In the example provided by the original poster, I frown upon the person who bumped the bird back to genus by choosing explicit disagreement with the observer. Lack of evidence isn’t contrary evidence.


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