The Bird Text Alert service allows you to receive bird news direct to your mobile phone as SMS text messages. To use the service you need to register for an annual membership, which costs £40 per annum (with discounts if you subscribe to more than one service).
Your first year's membership entitles you to 100 "message credits" initially. Each time you receive a message (which may be a bird report, or an acknowledgement of a command you send — see below) your credits will reduce by one. If your message credits run out, you will stop receiving messages until you purchase a top up. It is therefore critical that you select your reports carefully to avoid wasting credits on reports you don't really want. We publish up to 400 reports a day at busy times so you could use up all your credits in just a few days if you ask for wide categories of reports — this could prove expensive and is not how we expect most users will want to use the system. We recommend you begin conservatively and add additional criteria once you are familiar with the service and have tried it out for a while.
Once your annual subscription expires you will not be sent further messages, even if you have outstanding message credits. These credits will be retained and will be available to you once you renew your subscription (provided you do so within six months of your subscription expiring).
You can subscribe, renew a subscription, or top up your messages online via our online store, in which case your subscription or additional messages will be actioned automatically. You can also purchase subscriptions or additional messages by post or telephone, in which case you should allow up to two working days for your order to be processed.
What you need
You can receive Bird Text Alert message on any mobile phone that can receive standard SMS text messages. To use the service effectively you need to know how to:
The procedure for achieving these tasks varies from handset to handset — consult your handset documentation (BirdGuides cannot advise in cases of difficulty).
Please note that these are recommendations only, and are intended particularly for those considering a new handset. Most mobile phones in widespread use will be more than adequate to use the service successfully.
Ideally we would recommend a handset that permits you to store as many messages as possible — some older phones can only store a limited number of messages so you will need to delete messages more often to allow incoming messages to continue. If your phone's message store is full to capacity, incoming messages will be delayed and may eventually be discarded — this is a feature of the SMS protocol and is outside our control.
A handset with a larger screen will allow you to see more of each message at once and reduce the amount of scrolling you need to do.
You might also look for a phone that allows you to modify the incoming message alert, as on some handsets the default tone may be over-obtrusive (or alternatively too discreet!)
If you wish to control your message criteria frequently using the phone (see below) you may wish to look for a tariff that permits cheap text messaging as you will be charged at your standard text message rate for each outgoing "control message".
When you first set up the service, you will be asked to supply your mobile phone number. This should be quoted using an international format. With UK mobile phones this means removing the initial zero and replacing it with the national code 44 (in the Republic of Ireland use 353). Thus if your mobile phone number were 07000 123456 and you are based in the UK you should specify the number as 447000123456. We will send an initial message to this number, to which you need to respond in one of two ways:
No further messages will be sent until you have confirmed receipt of our message by either of these methods (this is to prevent unwanted messages going to an incorrect number, which could belong to another phone user and not the intended subscriber).
If you subsequently change to a different mobile number you will again be asked to confirm the new number by responding to a further confirmation request texted to the new phone.
Please note that outgoing messages sent by the Bird Text Alert service will often be sent from a different number to the control number (which is 07786 200505). Therefore using your phone's Reply function to send a control message in response to a message we've sent to you won't always work. We recommend you add the BirdGuides control number 07786 200505 to your handset's Phone Book and always use the Phone Book number thereafter.
You can specify which messages you want in two ways:
You can alter your requirements as often as you like. Doing so via the website is free. However, if you choose to use the second method, you will be charged at your standard rate for each outgoing text message, plus you will be charged at least one credit for a confirmation message (which will be sent whether or not the incoming command is recognised). We therefore recommend you use the website method wherever possible, unless you need to change your settings whilst out in the field.
You can specify that you want to receive the following categories of message (which will be familiar to you if you've used our Email Alert service):
If a particular report meets several of your criteria (e.g. if you asked for all records from Northumberland and all "megas" nationally, a "mega" in Northumberland would meet both criteria) you will only receive the report once — coded (NA).
You can also specify in advance that you do not wish to receive messages on particular days of the week.
In addition you can turn the service on or off at your discretion — your regional and species settings will not be lost but you will not receive any messages while the service is switched off. Any messages meeting your criteria that are entered while your service is switched off WILL NOT be sent to you when you switch the service on again.
NB you will not receive any text messages (apart from the initial number confirmation request) until you have either (a) told the system which reports you want to receive via the settings page and responded to your initial confirmation message or (b) sent one or more control messages to set up your message criteria.
To help you specify exactly and only the reports you want to receive, some reports are classed as "first" reports and in addition to regional or species-based criteria you can decide whether you want just these reports, or all reports including updates. The idea is you can elect to be alerted to a newly reported rarity, but not have to receive subsequent updates. If you receive a "first" report and you decide you want to continue receiving reports of that bird, you can then add a new criterion requesting all reports of that species (perhaps limited to that particular county); otherwise you won't hear about it again unless it moves to a distant site, is reported again after an absence of a set number of days (longer during winter), or is reidentified. The system determines automatically whether a newly entered report is a "first" by checking for reports of the same species at or near the same site in the qualifying period. If it finds none, it treats the report as a "first".
Please note that selecting "first reports" DOES NOT mean you'll be sent the first report we publish of long-staying rarities EACH DAY (as some subscribers have apparently assumed). Rather it means you'll only receive the first-ever report of a newly-found bird (assuming your service is switched on at the time it is first reported), and no subsequent updates on the same bird, however many days it stays, unless it goes missing for longer than the qualifying period and then reappears.
The difficulties of identifying automatically whether a report of a bird moving around a certain area is truly a first can occasionally lead to anomalies. Also, an influx of birds passing through a single site may all be treated as the same bird or group of birds, when a human observer would conclude that they are obviously not: a stream of seawatching reports of the same seasonal species past the same point would often be treated as referring to the same bird, when really some or all of the reports are, strictly speaking, "firsts". In general though the system works reasonably well and judicious use of "firsts" can significantly reduce the number of messages you receive.
We classify every species in our database by on a six-point scale depending on its rarity in the British Isles:
In attempting to classify every species we are aware that applying general status categories to each species across the whole of the British Isles is not always possible. For example, Cirl Bunting is classed as 'Local', but we fully appreciate that if a bird turned up away from breeding areas then it should really be classified as a 'Mega' or 'Rare' (being much rarer than some of the species in those categories).
The wider the area from which you're selecting reports, the higher the rarity level you should choose. Thus a typical set of regional criteria for someone living in an inland county might be:
First reports of megas only nationally
In a productive coastal area the last two criteria in this list could still produce more reports than you want, so in such circumstances you would probably elect to increase the rarity levels — it's up to you. We recommend you start conservatively, keep an eye on Bird News Extra or Email Alert for the reports you're not getting, and adjust your settings in the light of experience.
Please note that when specifying a rarity level, you're specifying the minimum rarity level you're interested in — you'll automatically get reports of rarer species (so, for example, if you request "scarce and rarer" species in a county, you'll automatically receive any reports of "rare" or "mega" species in that county). In other words, you don't need to specify that you want say "scarce birds in Kent" AND "rare birds in Kent" — the second setting adds nothing as all qualifying reports will be sent to you as a result of the first setting anyway.
For clarity here, all messages will be shown in CAPITALS and variable parts of the message will be indicated in lower case italic, but capitalisation is unimportant. You can send messages in ALL CAPITALS or all lower case or A miXTuRe Of tHe TwO and they will still be understood if worded correctly.
Control messages you send will be charged at your standard text message rate. All control messages will be confirmed by at least one text message to you, at a cost of one message credit each (apart from BIRDS CONFIRM and BIRDS RPT). This includes messages that cannot be understood or that do not change your current settings (e.g. sending BIRDS ON when your service is already enabled — see below). Confirmation messages may take a few minutes to arrive, so we don't recommend resending messages that aren't acknowledged immediately.
You can try out various control messages, and review the effects on your settings, without incurring charges or losing credits, via our Control Message simulation page.
All control messages must begin with the word BIRDS. Any that do not will not reach us.
Two or more commands can be sent in a single message, by separating the commands with *. For example:
BIRDS ON * SETTINGS
would switch the service on and send you a summary of your settings. If you use this mechanism, please note:
Many handsets allow the use of "templates" whereby you can store particular messages that you send frequently to save you having to input them "by hand" each time. You might consider setting up some frequently used control messages (e.g. BIRDS ON and BIRDS OFF) as templates, if this feature is available on your handset.
Control messages should be sent to 07786 200505. Note that this is different from the number we use for outgoing messages (we have several different providers) so sending a control message by replying to a message we've sent you won't usually work. Instead add 07786 200505 to your phone book and always text your control messages to that number.
NB The control message mechanism uses a third-party system which may occasionally be unavailable (availability is also determined by signal coverage). If your control messages are not confirmed within a few minutes, use the settings page, where possible.
To switch off all messages until further notice, but without clearing existing settings, text BIRDS OFF.
To re-enable your messages using existing settings, text BIRDS ON.
Note that if have set up the system not to send you messages on certain days of the week, sending a BIRDS ON message will overrule these settings such that you will receive reports on all days of the week until further notice.
Text BIRDS SETTINGS — an abbreviated summary of your current settings will be returned to you in a text message (this summary may exceed the maximum permitted length of an SMS message if you have complex settings, in which case you will need to check your settings via www.birdguides.com/textsettings). This command is useful to check that the control mechanism is available.
For example, you might receive a message reading:
ON; Days=FrSaSu; Exp=30/10/03; Msgs=84; NW=FM; Derbys=AS; Cheshire=FR.
This message can be interpreted thus:
Any species you may have set up will not be included, for reasons of space (standard SMS messages are limited to 160 characters).
To clear all your settings, text BIRDS CLEAR. This has a similar effect to BIRDS OFF, in that you will receive no further messages, but unlike BIRDS OFF your previous criteria will be deleted and you will need to enter all criteria (national rarities, regions, counties, species, etc.) anew, so use this command with caution. If you send BIRDS CLEAR and then specify new criteria by control message(s) you do not need to send a BIRDS ON command to activate your new settings.
BIRDS CLEAR does not clear your mobile number.
You can request certain reports 'nationwide' (that is, anywhere in the British Isles including the Irish Republic), or change your existing national criteria, using the keyword NATIONAL.
You can also specify your national criteria more precisely by texting:
BIRDS NATIONAL reporttype raritylevel
where reporttype is FIRST or ALL and raritylevel is MEGA, RARE, or OFF. For example:
BIRDS NATIONAL FIRST RARE
would mean you would be sent all first reports of Rarities, as well as Megas, throughout the UK and Ireland.
If you omit either parameter the default value (reporttype=FIRST and raritylevel=MEGA) will be used for the missing parameter. Thus BIRDS NATIONAL MEGA will be interpreted as meaning you want First reports of all national megas.
Please note that lower levels of rarity (SCARCE, LOCAL and COMMON) are not available on a national basis. Please use BIRDS NATIONAL with caution; for example, BIRDS NATIONAL ALL RARE will result in lots of messages which will quickly use up your credits at productive times of year.
To request reports from a particular region (e.g. Northeast England, or Wales), text:
(see below for recognised region codes). This will mean you are sent First reports of all species categorised as Rare or Mega which are reported in your chosen regions (for example, BIRDS SCOT or BIRDS NI EIRE).
You can override the default regional settings (FIRST reports of RARE and rarer species) by texting:
BIRDS regioncode(s) reporttype raritylevel
For example, if you wanted to receive first reports of species categorised as scarce or rarer, in Wales, you would text BIRDS WALES FIRST SCARCE (you could actually omit FIRST as this is the default report type for regions).
To stop receiving records from a particular region ro regions, text BIRDS regioncode(s) OFF. This will not prevent messages that meet other (area, species or national) criteria from being sent. For example, if you had previously asked for all reports of Waxwings anywhere, and all records of scarce species from Wales, and then sent BIRDS WALES OFF, a report of a Welsh Waxwing would still be sent because of your request for all reports of Waxwing nationally.
Recognised region names are as follows (though most full names will also be recognised):
To request certain reports from particular counties, text:
where countycode(s) is one or more standard abbreviated county name (e.g. Northumbs, though most common alternatives will also be recognised — see below). This will mean you are sent All reports of Scarce and rarer species. This is OK for inland counties at quiet times of year, but for productive counties such as Norfolk or during passage seasons this could mean you use a lot of messages up quickly, so you can specify your requirements more selectively by texting:
BIRDS countycode(s) reporttype raritylevel
For example, if you wanted to receive first reports of species categorised as local or rarer, in Shetland, you would text BIRDS SHETLAND FIRST LOCAL.
As with regions, if you omit reporttype or raritylevel the system will assume the defaults (ALL and SCARCE respectively), with one exception. If you text BIRDS countycode ALL you will receive All reports of All species (including LOCAL and COMMON) from that county — not just SCARCE and rarer species as you might expect.
To stop receiving records from a particular county that you've previously switched on, text BIRDS countycode(s) OFF. This will not prevent messages that meet other (national, regional or species) criteria from being sent. For example, if you had previously asked for all reports of rare and mega species in the Midlands, and all records of scarce species in Worcestershire, and then sent BIRDS WORCS OFF, a report of a mega in Worcestershire would still be sent because of your request for all reports of megas in the Midlands.
Please also note that you can only switch off counties that are currently switched on. Texting BIRDS countycode OFF will have no effect if the county was not previously switched on, but you will nevertheless be charged one credit for acknowledging the message.
Recognised county names are as follows (though most sensible variants will also be recognised):
Counties and regions can be combined in a single command if required; for example:
BIRDS NI DONEGAL LOUTH ON
will result in your receiving reports from all counties in Northern Ireland, plus those from Co. Donegal and Co. Louth in the Republic of Ireland.
To request all reports of a particular species nationally, text:
BIRDS speciesname (countycode(s)) (regioncode(s)) reporttype
The system will recognise most correctly spelled variants of species names and will ignore hyphens, apostrophes, etc., but if in doubt check www.birdguides.com/species or copy the name used in an outgoing message.
If you include a county or region code, reports will be restricted to that species in those areas only. This can be very useful if you are set up for "first reports only"; if you receive a first report of a bird you'd like to keep tabs on, send BIRDS speciesname countycode ALL to receive all updates on that species in the relevant county.
To stop receiving records of a particular species, text:
BIRDS speciesname OFF
This will not prevent reports of this species that meet other (area, regional or national) criteria from being sent. For example, if you had previously asked for all reports from Berkshire and all records of Hoopoe and then sent BIRDS HOOPOE OFF, a report of a Berkshire Hoopoe would still be sent because of your request for all reports from that county.
Similarly, if you have asked for all reports of national megas, and you start receiving lots of messages about a particular rarity, you can't 'opt out' of further reports of this species by sending BIRDS speciesname OFF. In such a situation we recommend you opt for First reports only of national megas or rarities, and then opt in to further reports of any particular species that catches your interest using BIRDS speciesname ON.
As with regions and counties, you can only switch off species that are currently switched on.
More than one species can be specified if required. A few species may cause confusion due to ambiguity over species names (e.g. Curlew and Curlew Sandpiper) but most combinations, and most variant names, will work as expected.
By default once you have confirmed your mobile number and specified some criteria for messages you will be sent messages 7 days a week, 365 days a year, whenever they are input into our system (the service is generally manned between 8am and 11pm but messages may be transmitted as early as 7am and as late as midnight). You can tell the system whether or not you wish to be sent messages on particular days of the week by texting:
BIRDS MON OFF
BIRDS MON ON
These commands will have immediate effect if sent on the day in question, otherwise they will come into effect as soon as is appropriate (e.g. a BIRDS MON OFF message sent on a Wednesday will mean you get no messages the following Monday, nor on subsequent Mondays until you change the setting via the website or by texting BIRDS MON ON).
As a shortcut, you can also specify operation on Saturday and Sundays, or on weekdays, jointly by texting:
BIRDS WEEKDAYS OFF
BIRDS WEEKEND ON
etc. Due to occasional transmission delays outside of our control we cannot guarantee that messages will not arrive at unsociable hours or even, in exceptional circumstances, on days when you've asked for no messages. If you wish to be certain of not being disturbed, we recommend switching off your mobile phone or disabling the incoming message alert (if your handset allows it).
We would normally recommend you call our sightings hotline 0333 5772473 if you wish to report a sighting. "03" numbers are inclusive on your mobile phone plan. This means that calls do use up your minutes, but there will no longer be an extra charge as there was with the previous 0800 number. You may prefer to text in your sighting, however, if that works out cheaper for you (and you can earn free credits by submitting reports in this way). If so, please use the following format:
BIRDS RPT your message
Please include as much information as possible; as a minimum please tell us:
You do not need to include your mobile number or name as we will be informed of the number automatically and can identify you from it, and we will not charge you a credit for acknowledging your sighting. In fact, for each report we choose to use, three credits will be added to your account — two as an incentive to submit reports to us, and the third to compensate you for the likely text that (depending on your settings) you will receive back, containing your own report.
If your phone uses predictive messaging (where the phone completes words automatically as you type them) you may find it easier to use BIRDS REPORT or BIRDS NEWS, either of which will work in the same way as BIRDS RPT.
Send all control messages to 07786 200505. You will be charged at least one message credit for acknowledgements to all control messages except BIRDS CONFIRM and BIRDS RPT.
Separate multiple commands by *:
BIRDS NORFOLK ON * SUFFOLK OFF
Switch the service on and off using:
Switch national rarities on and off using:
BIRDS NATIONAL [FIRST/ALL] [MEGA/RARE/OFF]
Switch various categories of rarities on and off using:
BIRDS [speciesname(s)] [regioncode(s)] [countycode(s)] [FIRST/ALL] [RARE/MEGA/SCARCE/LOCAL/COMMON/OFF]
Report sightings news using:
BIRDS RPT your message
or by calling 0333 5772473.
Choices are separated by forward slashes / and optional parameters are listed within [square brackets], default first.
Other bird news services from BirdGuides