What do you put if the algorithm can't even guess?

I’m really new to this, so forgive my ignorance. There’s been a pale bird hanging out with the local house finches and I’ve taken some images of it, but even the iNat algorithm couldn’t identify it, so I ended up putting an ID of house finch because that’s the kinds of birds its been seen with. I know people HATE it when you put “unknown” so what do you do if iNat can’t guess? I’ve had this happen a couple of times and I want to make sure I’m not irking anyone nor falsely IDing something.


Good question. There’s a big difference between “Unknown” and (unknown) “Bird”. The former will probably never get identified, while the latter will be picked up and ID’d very quickly by the many bird folks on the site.
So just think of your own best guess, and be as specific as you can while still being roughly 100% sure. Like, you’re probably 100% sure it’s a bird (Class: Aves) so just put that.


Just put ‘birds’. Someone will find it.


Just go higher up and more general.

  • “Birds” is a valid ID option for any bird;
  • “Plants” is a valid option for any plant.

And if you mark it as a “Bird” a bird expert will be likely to see it within a short period.


Please, don’t use “Plants” if you can. It’s like using “Kingdom Animalia” for all things zoological.

Plants contain “Vascular Plants”, “Mosses and Liverworts”, and Algae. These are three very different things and odds are an expert on vascular plants don’t know mosses very well. So discerning would be much appreciated.

On the subject I agree that "Bird’ is sufficient ID.


Bird ID gets refined while I am working on the next few.

Plant ID is effectively equivalent to Unknown or Life. A substantial part of iNat obs are planty, needs to be more specific to be useful. If someone adds a species ID to Plantae, iNat displays Plantae not the species. Not a happy process. That obs has to work three times as hard to get its ID narrowed down.

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  1. There are many amateur observers (probably the majority on this site) who don’t know the difference. That’s okay. Not everyone needs to have that knowledge and those who want it will learn with time.
  2. There are people who browse under “Plants” and subsequently refine the categorization, so it isn’t a problem of “an expert on vascular plants don’t know mosses very well”. There may be a backlog, but at most it just takes a bit more time.

I don’t use the algorithm but I’d ID it as closely as I could. In your case, that could just be “Birds”. Someone who knows about birds will probably find it that way and help you with ID. :)


There is. A very few who ever look at it!
41K for Africa need some people to browse plants

First World, global North - has many observers and identifiers and field guides. Those one size fits all rules don’t work everywhere.

And idle curiosity tipping the filters, from my one day I will get to the 41K, to worldwide needs ID between planty and family.
Only 3.2 million waiting. That may take a while.


This is only true of IDs to subspecies, not species. Species should advance the overall ID, but subspecies are programed not to.


With respect, I disagree. I look at the whole kingdom Plantae when I ID and I find it much better than Unknown.


Thank you - you are among the few making a HUGE difference!

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Sounds to me like the intention was to go to species first, then to subspecies later if appropriate. It’d be nice if the people who ID directly to subspecies were on board with that.


Not all of us can tell monocots from dicots, or flowering from non-flowering plants. Sorry, but sometimes plant is the best I can do.


And what are “vascular plants”? It is new to me.


Plantae is fine, as far as my ID flow is concerned. If you want to go further, “Vascular Plants” aka Tracheophyta are basically all plants that are neither liverworts, mosses, or algae. “Flowering Plants” aka Angiospermae would be a good ID for any observation showing fruits or flowers. Annotating them as fruiting or flowering along with the ID would be even better. Woody plants (shrubs and trees) with flowers are very likely dicots (Magnoliopsida).


Amen. Anything that moves the ID in the right direction should be welcomed.


if that is the iNat intention - we should get a popup - please ID to species first.
Seems a very clunky workaround.

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It’s terminology like mammals (what non-scientists call ‘animals’) and animals.

Vascular plants are what people think of first (typical ‘plants’) - excluding moss, fern, algae.


Except ferns are actually very much vascular plants, they are just the seedless vascular variety. And then you have things like clubmosses, which are also vascular and go with the ferns, not the true mosses. It does get complicated for someone not familiar with plants…

Edited to add: That’s not to discourage anyone less familiar with plants from using those IDs. Some are more clear-cut than others - e.g. a tree is always a vascular plant, no question about that. For the more confusing ferny-mossy stuff, those of us who do a lot of plant IDs are probably all used to picking up on mistakes and nudging them in the right direction. A lot of lichens get mis-ID’d as mosses or liverworts, too. But once they have a first ID added, it makes it easier to find and correct them.