Why does the European Robin change its name so often?

Ever since I’ve been using Inat I’ve been familiar with the European Robin. That is until a couple of weeks ago, when it suddenly became a Robin Redbreast. Fair enough! Although being a little juvenile, this is the popular common name as far as many people are concerned. It’s now suddenly become just Robin! Who is responsible for these changes? Under what criteria, and upon what authority do they make these changes? It’s hardly conducive to a stable database.

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It’s the curation system I think, which (as far as I know) seems to work somewhat like Wikipedia and similar sites in that ‘anyone is an editor’ but there’s also a system of people with higher editing abilities. Anyone – you or me – could go to the taxon page for the European robin, and “flag for curation” and make a case about something. The common name in different languages or regions, the scientific name (binomial) actually needing to be something else, or another shift in taxonomy. I think you can flag for curation issues like ‘there’s a lot of misidentified species in here’ or it needs to be split into more species, or the photos chosen as the representative photos aren’t good representations, or a resource should be added to that little bar in the taxon page that lists databases and things. Species can get labeled invasive in different areas, or endemic, or marked to always have their observations’ locations obscured (usually to prevent environmental disturbance, or because the thing itself is an ‘illegal substance’ in some areas).

So all of that can get done by you or me or anyone – the flagging part. Opening a case.

Then it’s the curators who discuss it among themselves and with you on your flag, and either implement it or close the flag. I’m not super familiar but I’m guessing who gets to be a curator is decided by iNat staff and/or other curators. They appear to largely be volunteers. Maybe some experts get paid? I don’t know.

I’ll try to get a screenshot highlighting the “flag for curation” button

… but as to why is that common name swapping back and forth, I don’t know. I think they can choose it to appear one way in one region and another way in different regions, even within the same language. So it could be someone working that out. Or else people really disagree and the robin fight rages on…

Any user can suggest common names, but curators can change their priority and edit/delete. Curators are unpaid aside from iNat staff who (as far as I know) all are curators. The bulk of day to day curation for things like common names is done by volunteer curators.

As @mkremedios mentioned, the best way to address concerns around common names is by looking for existing flags or raising them on the taxon on iNat itself. You can also look at the curation history for a taxon ( https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/13094/history) in this case. You can see that some recent name additions and changes have been made, but it looks like things have settled?

I would recommend raising any continuing questions about the specific taxon via curation flags on iNat.

Ok here are the screenshots which show the curation flag process, and reveal the flag that answers your question (some)

To start with here is the European robin’s taxon page –

And I circled the Curation menu button.

Here is that menu opened up

If you see there is (1) flag shown near “show flags” so I went to that.

Here you can see a quick summary of this flag, which was about changing the common name. Click the blue 'details" button for the exact text of the flag and who made it, along with the discussion on it if any:

And there we have it.

Here’s what it looks like making your own curation flag:

(I did not actually submit this flag because that would be rude to whoever had to check it)


Someone changed it to ‘Robin redbreast’, someone else objected in a flag because ‘no birder would use it’ and it was changed to just Robin. You occasionally get these little flurries of dispute in iNat where someone makes a change that someone else finds objectionable. It’s just which is the default shown that has changed - all the names are still there and you can still search by ‘Robin redbreast’ if you want (and yes it’s a very common way to refer to the bird in the UK so it should stay as an option, but I do agree it’s best for the default to be European Robin or just Robin).


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