What to do if I got a clear visual ID but couldn't get a good picture

It happens from time to time that I spot something —say, a bird— that I can very clearly identify from my visual observation, but then the pictures I get are blurry, or the individual’s too far away, or too dark… So what would the correct procedure be when uploading the pictures as an observation? Should I go as far as to species level, since I know what I saw, or should I only go as far as I think the pictures allow others to go?

I’ve seen dozens of examples throughout the platform where somebody uploads the tiniest picture of a black spot far up in the sky and say it’s this or that other bird species. Those observations often don’t get any further comments; and if they do, it’s usually someone pointing out that they can’t obviously get an actual ID from such a picture…



You of course id it as what you saw, also you can add a drawing if you did it right after you saw a thing, but be cautious not to add any details you didn’t actually see. If photo doesn’t show much to base an id on it’s likely won’t be confirmed, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t add it.


It kind of depends, because there is the community ID, uploading something where someone else who wasn’t there can’t tell what it is, it will likely get backed up a few taxon levels.

I would suggest if the photo that you have can’t be reasonably ID’d to just a couple of species without a description, consider uploading it as a Casual observation. Especially if this is a rare bird.

If it can ID’d to just a couple of options, then yeah, upload normally, include a written description and see it gets excepted.


You should identify it as precisely as you can from all the evidence available to you, including your own eyes and ears. You don’t have to provide a photo at all. But if you can’t provide photographic/audio evidence to back up the species-level ID, you obviously can’t expect others to make the observation Research Grade by corroborating your ID.

(To avoid arguments in the comments section, I would suggest that if you are giving an ID that is more precise than is possible from the photo, you preemptively explain why you are doing so in the description.)


@DanielAustin gives great advice here. Just one thing to add:
If it’s a case where the evidence is decent (like a solid photo), but you’re just missing a specific character from the photo that you witnessed in person that allowed you to make the ID, it’s good practice to put that info in the description. Someone else might be able to confirm an ID if you give them that evidence in the description in combination with the photo.


Agreed, there is space to provide comments for each upload. Community responders will often acknowledge those comments and rely on your testimony if there are other “clues” in the photograph to do so. There is also space as a co-identifier to supply comments as to why an action was taken.


Thank you all very much for your answers! Your feedback’s very much appreciated ;) I think I’ll keep on avoiding uploading pictures of dark far spots in the sky :sweat_smile:, but I’ll add comments to pictures which are not completely useless if some input about the direct visual observation is added… I don’t think adding just an unidentifiable bird would be much useful, if we take into account the areas I usually wander in.

I guess my doubt is related to the already discussed issue of the disagreement prompt when identifying at a higher level than originally done in the observation, the meaning of which is not always obvious in all languages or to all users :thinking:

Thanks again!


With birds (I do this frequently on eBird) if it is a species that would be unusual time-wise or out-of-range, I write down exactly the process used to ID.

So for example, recently I saw an orange-crowed warbler, which was rare according to eBird. I wrote down in the description that I was viewing it at a certain distance, using 8x binoculars, and then I noted that it was foraging with a ruby-crowned kinglet and also near white-throated sparrows, and that it was slightly bigger than the kinglet but much smaller than the sparrows. Then I noted that I got a good view of its back, and it had no wing bars. I also got a clear view of the undertail coverts, which were yellow, and I also got a clear view of its face. I also noticed that it tended to be foraging lower in the vegetation than the kinglet, almost near the ground, and that it was in an area that had dense tangles of vines and herbaceous vegetation.

All of these things are important for ID! And they accepted the record. Incidentally, someone else also saw the same bird not far from there on another day.

In some cases, I also have extensive experience with a relevant species, which I also note. For example, I lived on the West Coast for four months and in that time, I got extensive views of Western and Cassin’s kingbirds, to where I was very familiar with them. Then, on the East Coast, a few years later, I saw a yellow-breasted Kingbird. I immediately could tell that it was neither a Western nor Cassin’s kingbird, but I didn’t know what it was. Mainly, it looked too big, and it was perched in a spot where I had good size references! My guess was Tropical or Couch’s kingbird, but I wasn’t sure of that, and both seemed exceedingly unlikely.

Someone else showed up with a better camera AND heard the bird vocalize (which I did not) and it turned out to be a Tropical kingbird!

So like…just share your thought process, and also share relevant experience you’ve had.

There’s a big difference between a report of something like a Lincoln’s sparrow or Clay Colored sparrow, from someone who is reporting it as a new bird on their life list, vs. someone who has seen dozens or hundreds of those species and spots one in with a flock of some other species. But similarly, if someone identifies a Clay-colored sparrow among a flock of chipping sparrows in fall, I am going to trust them a lot more if they have seen hundreds of chipping sparrows and have seen them in all their different plumages through the year, vs. if they are relatively unfamiliar with chipping sparrow and then think they see a clay-colored sparrow in the mix…if that makes sense?


Absolutely, it makes perfect sense. There are lots of species I wouldn’t dare a visual ID for without decent pictures to check on the details. But the ones I’m familiar with… different story. It’s great how one gets to know birds or any other kind of being just from the jizz you get. I love that there’s even a word for that in English! We lack it in Spanish!


I’ve added a few rare bird observation records to iNat for which I have NO photos at all. These were from a period when I didn’t have a camera. The species were correctly identified by me and others. I don’t expect anyone to agree with the ID on the records since they lack any supporting evidence, but I submitted them simply because I wanted to keep track of when and where I saw them.


Decide between:
(a) making a field sketch observation* (which IS eligible for Research Grade status - just don’t forget to include/check the accuracy of the date/location)

(b) adding a “No Photo” observation (which is Casual status)

(c) uploading the blurry/dark photos with YOUR ID, which should be based on what YOU SAW (keep in mind that many blurry or dark photos get IDed - what’s a difficult ID for one person might be easy for another. And photos can be lightened/sharpened etc, either by you or by an IDer).

(d) both a and c.

As far as photos where the “individual’s too far away”, I recommend a cropped photo, due to iNat’s photo compression. The uncropped photo may or may not be needed as well, depending on each individual situation. For example, if the uncropped photo adds value to the observation via giving an idea of scale, habitat, light/shadow clues, etc.

*iNaturalist accepts field sketches if they have diagnostic features, and there’s a project here:

You can read more about “Are drawings evidence?” here - note comment by Forum Moderator charlie:


If you know what YOU SAW, then that should be YOUR ID.


Post the photo. Give it the identification you’re confident is right, based on all you saw/heard. Also write a comment on why you think it’s what it is – the field marks you saw or the calls/songs you heard. Identifiers will ask themselves if the comments are consistent with the photo and some (not all!) use the comments to give an identification for your observation. Whether it gets to research grade or not, your observation will be out there for people to use if they feel it’s appropriate for their projects.


I can only agree with what has already been said. Except to mention that iNat is not specifically about reaching ‘research grade’. It is about observing non-human life, and recording its presence. I work mainly with moths, and some of them can only be firmly ID’d by genital dissection, which is not possible with a photograph. Still, the photo, and the following discussion, can assist in clarification of the species, even though a firm one cannot be made.
My complaint with birds is that they rarely sit still long enough for me to get decent photo!


Thank you everybody for your answers. You helped me clarify my understanding of what my attempts at a first ID should be in cases like the one described. You shared some very helpful insights!


When I am looking to do a community ID, I have not been considering comments. Are there guidelines for how to assess these? As an example, is “clearly saw” type evidence sufficient? I would guess . . . well, I don’t really know. eBird reviewers would not be happy with that. I would guess based on the above discussion that mention of specific field marks that led to an ID would be sufficient. Please advise.

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If you, cannot ID as that species, yourself - then iNat rules are clear.


First off, thanks so much for your time and help IDing.

No, “clearly saw” is not sufficient evidence for bird ID. Other more specific comments may or may not be considered evidence, depending on each individual situation. For example, if a known birder comments that they IDed a Fish vs American Crow based on call, then a bird IDer who knows that that observer knows the difference between the calls may conclude that is sufficient evidence. However, other bird IDers may conclude it is not sufficient evidence unless the actual audio is attached.


If the observer describes specific field marks, I will agree if I could also have IDed the bird with those field marks.


My expertise and interest is with moths. Comments that accompany photographs that are not clear such as plant upon which the moth was found as the poster suggests the species can assist in supporting the identification. I apologize if my comment created confusion for what you seek to understand.