Bird Text Alert: Frequently Asked Questions


Why didn't I get a particular report?

There are a number of reasons why you might not get a message you were expecting:

  • Untwitchable: The bird in question was judged to be "untwitchable", and you've asked not to receive such reports.
  • Too common: The species in question is commoner than your minimum setting for that county or region. For example if you've asked for "Scarce and Rarer" species, you won't receive reports of Local or Common species. For a list of species and categories, click here. Note that only the "main" species determines whether or not the report is sent to you (not other species that happen to be mentioned in the report), and the rarity of a particular species is determined on a national basis so the relative abundance or rarity of that species in your particular area is not taken into account.
  • Update: The report in question was considered an update on previous reports, and you've asked for "first reports only". Sometimes birds that are clearly NOT the same individuals as before (e.g. Black Terns passing through an inland reservoir several days apart) are treated by our automatic system as Updates, but these anomalies are fairly rare. Note that first reports only DOES NOT mean that you'll get the first report of a particular bird EACH DAY — it means just the very first report of a particular bird, however many days it stays thereafter. If you've asked for first reports only and you happen to have Bird Text Alert switched off when a rarity first arrives, you'll miss the first report, and you won't receive subsequent updates even if you switch the service back on.
  • Service switched off: You may have switched the service off at some point, or the report was carried on a day when you have asked for No messages. Text BIRDS ON to 07786 200505 or go to the settings page, tick the Send Messages box, and click Submit at the bottom of the page. If you allow your subscription to expire, your service will be switched off automatically; if you subsequently renew your subscription, you may need to switch the service back on manually.
  • Wrong county: We may have the site allocated to a different county to what you were expecting (and the county we have may not be among those you've selected). Click here for a list of "our" counties, with notes where necessary.
  • No credit: You may have run out of credit — check the settings page. Note that messages stop arriving when you get down to 1 credit, not 0.
  • Subscription expired: Your subscription may have expired — check the settings page.
  • Signal failure or phone switched off: if your phone is switched off, or in an area where there is no signal, messages will be delayed. The SMS network will try periodically to deliver messages later when the phone may be contactable, but after a number of unsuccessful attempts it will "give up".
  • Phone memory full: if your phone's memory is filled by stored messages, new messages cannot be delivered until you delete some old messages to make space. The SMS network will attempt to resend for a while, and then stop, as outlined above.
  • Individual message problems: Occasionally a particular message will fail to be sent, usually because of a problem with our SMS providers, or with the SMS network in general. In almost all cases you will not be charged for undelivered messages.
  • System and provider problems: Very rarely, and usually for reasons beyond our control, the Bird Text Alert service may be out of action. We may offer subscription extensions as compensation, subject to the Terms and Conditions of the Service. If we know of problems with particular providers, you may find information on our status page.
  • Report not known to us: Although we have a large pool of loyal contributors who submit bird news, and we do our best to monitor as many additional public-domain sources of bird information as we can, we don't get to hear about every report — if we don't hear about a particular sighting, we can't report it!

One particular situation that often prompts enquiries occurs if you choose First reports only in a certain category, and elect not to receive untwitchable reports. If the first report of a rarity is considered untwitchable, you won't hear about that bird at all — the first report won't be sent because you've asked not to receive news of untwitchable birds, and any subsequent reports won't be because you've asked for First reports only. Of course such a situation only arises if a supposedly "untwitchable" bird is seen subsequently, but this can happen occasionally: the twitchable/untwitchable decision is not always straightforward, especially as first reports are often vague and are received before a rarity has "settled down" and its pattern of occurrence established. As we say in the advice for the "untwitchable" box on the Bird Text Alert settings page, "Of course an "untwitchable" bird may return, or turn up elsewhere...it's possible that if you opt out of untwitchable reports you may miss some potentially interesting reports as a result". If you want to avoid this (fairly unusual) situation occurring, either ask for All reports, or opt in to Untwitchable reports.

Why have I just received an old report?

We try to report bird sightings as quickly as possible, but there are three points at which delays may occur:

  • Between the bird being seen and us hearing about it (the commonest source of delay).

    Bird Text Alert messages indicate the time we published the report (the time quoted at the beginning of the report) and, if known, the time the bird was reported to have been seen (quoted in brackets at the end of the message). If there is a large difference between these two times, it's usually because it wasn't reported to us immediately (e.g. if the observer doesn't have a mobile phone and has to wait until they got home), or we've picked it up indirectly from a third party. If the difference between the "seen" time and the "added" time is more than a few hours, the report will usually be marked as "untwitchable" — you can opt out of receiving such messages if you wish.
  • Between us receiving the report and publishing it.

    At busy times our operators may get a few minutes behind in publishing submitted reports, but such delays are usually short, and short-lived.
  • Between us publishing the report and the resulting text message getting to you.

    See below for reasons why this might occur.

We pride ourselves on providing a rapid and robust service, and have chosen our SMS providers carefully (after cheaper candidates failed to provide a sufficiently reliable or responsive service). However there may be occasions when text messages are delayed for technical reasons:

  • Your phone has been switched off, out of signal, or its memory had become full.
  • We or our providers have had system problems; in this circumstance queued messages may be sent out when the problem is resolved.
  • There are problems with your mobile operator or network (these are out of our control).

Because we cannot rule out the possibility of delayed messages, we recommend you switch your phone to silent (or switch it off) if you don't want to be disturbed. Switching off Bird Text Alert but leaving your phone on may, in rare circumstances, not prevent delayed text messages being delivered later.

I've changed my mobile phone number — what do I do?

Go to the settings page, enter your new number, then click the Submit button. You'll be sent a free confirmation text. Then either go to www.birdguides.com/birdsconfirm and enter the Unlock Code provided in the message, or text BIRDS CONFIRM to 07786 200505 from your new number.

I've subscribed but I haven't received any messages — what's the problem?

There may be several reasons for this:

  • Wrong/unconfirmed number: When you first supply your mobile number, we sent a confirmation text to that number to check you've given us the right number. You need to respond in one of two ways — by sending a return text message as specified, or by visiting a web page and entering a code given in the confirmation text. If you didn't get a confirmation text, go to the settings page, check the mobile number you've given is correct, and then click the Submit button to get another copy of the confirmation text.
  • No criteria specified: You need to tell us which counties, species, etc. you want to hear about. Until you do so (here) you won't get any bird reports texted to your phone.
  • Service switched off: You may have switched the service off at some point. Text BIRDS ON to 07786 200505 or go to the settings page, tick the Send Messages box, and click Submit at the bottom of the page.
  • No matching reports: There may simply not have been any reports matching your criteria since you subscribed. This is more likely if you've asked for First reports only, of rarer species categories, and/or in fairly unproductive counties. Check your Message Log.
  • System and provider problems: Very rarely, and usually for reasons beyond our control, the Bird Text Alert service may be out of action. We may offer subscription extensions as compensation, subject to the Terms and Conditions of the Service.

I've received the same message twice. What's going on and have I been charged twice?

Unfortunately, text messages are occasionally duplicated in transit. We have spoken to our SMS providers and they are aware of the problem, but have assured us that they too are forwarding each of our messages once only; a small minority of messages are subsquently duplicated somewhere within the mobile network, and you may receive two or more identical copies of a single report.

You are not charged additional credits for these duplicated messages. Provided a message only appears once in your Message Log, it means we've only sent it once, and you've only been charged one credit.

On very rare occasions due to operator error or system problems a near-identical report may be saved twice, and will appear twice in your message log.

I texted in a control message, but didn't receive an acknowledgement. What went wrong?

There are a number of possible reasons:

  • Wrong number: You texted the report to the wrong number, so we never received it. Our control number is 07786 200505.
  • Wrong format: Unless the message you sent begins with the word BIRDS, followed by a space, we won't receive it.
  • Incoming problems: Occasionally, there are problems at our providers and incoming texts are delayed or lost.
  • Outgoing problems: Acknowledgements of text messages are subject to the same occasional problems as any other text message. A particular message may fail to be sent, usually because of a problem with our SMS providers, or with the SMS network in general. If this is the problem, your control message will have had the intended effect, but you won't get an acknowledgment.

I texted in a control message, but got a response saying the message was not understood. What did I do wrong?

Incoming control messages are handled automatically by an automated system, so need to be formatted correctly according to the instructions; they are not read or interpreted by a human so "free form" instructions will not usually be recognised or obeyed. We recommend you try our Control Message Simulation Page to familiarise yourself with the necessary codes and syntax.

How do I report a sighting by text?

Send a text to 07786 200505, prefixing your message with BIRDS RPT. The report will be forwarded to our sightings team automatically by email, and you should receive an automatic free acknowledgement of your submission. Always include the species and site (with as much information as possible, including the county if it's not a well-known site) and any other information, but your message should preferably not exceed 160 characters in total.

I texted in a sighting, but you didn't use it. Why not?

Firstly check (on Bird News Extra or Email Alert) that we didn't actually use the report. A bird you text in may not match your own settings, so you won't necessarily get your own report back as a text.

If we haven't used the report it could be for one of several reasons:

  • The species is too common to be of more than local interest.
  • In our opinion the bird reported has, on the balance of probabilities, been misidentified.
  • The bird in question has been recently reported by another observer.
  • We have been asked by local or national conservation agencies not to mention the particular site or species, or we are aware of local sensitivities.
  • We are still investigating the report with other local contacts, or have requested more information from you and not yet heard back.
  • We didn't receive the report (see above).

We don't intentionally ignore relevant reports without good reason. Please don't feel discouraged if we don't use your report.

What do the codes [N], [R], [A], [S] at the end of the messages mean?

These codes indicate why you've been sent the message:

  • [N] indicates reports that match your national setting
  • [R] indicates reports that match your regional settings
  • [A] indicates reports that match your area or county settings
  • [S] indicates reports that match your species settings

Occasionally a report way meet more than one of your criteria, in which case you may see two codes (e.g. a national mega in one of your selected counties may show the code [NA] — you won't receive such messages twice).

How do I find out how many credits I've got left?

Either go to the Settings page (recommended), or text BIRDS SETTINGS to 07786 200505 to receive a text summary of your settings, including your credit balance (which will cost you one credit, plus the cost of the text you send).

I've still got one credit left but my messages seem to have stopped arriving. Why?

For technical reasons messages stop being sent when your credit gets down to 1, not 0. This may be resolved in the future. However you are not losing out as if you buy 100 additional credits the 1 remaining credit will be included in the total, taking your credit balance to 101.

How can I reduce the number of messages I'm receiving?

There are a number of ways you can reduce the number of messages you're sent, all done via the Settings page. You can change your settings as often as you like, for free:

  • Switch the service off (via the Settings page, or by texting BIRDS OFF to 07786 200505) when you're not able to act upon the messages you receive, and on again when you are.
  • Set up the service (via the Settings page) so that you're only sent reports on certain days of the week.
  • Reduce the number of counties or regions you've nominated (click the "clear" link next to that county or region)
  • Increase the rarity level (e.g. from "Scarce and rarer" to "Rare and very rare") for all or some of your counties or regions.
  • Switch to "First reports" only for some or all of your counties or regions.
  • Untick the "I want to receive untwitchable reports" box.

Can I opt out of reports from the Republic of Ireland/Northern Ireland/The Isle of Man, etc.?

Yes, but it's a bit time-consuming. You can't ask for "national reports except for regions A and B, and counties C and D", but you can achieve the same effect by a roundabout method: switch off your national reports and add regional and county criteria for all the regions and counties you ARE interested in. Once you've filled up all the available "slots", click Submit and add further regions one by one, clicking Submit after each one. Alternatively use the Control Message Simulation Page.

For example if you wanted to receive just first reports of megas from anywhere in the UK except the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man you'd need to submit the following control messages:

  • BIRDS NATIONAL OFF (this clears any existing national setting)
  • BIRDS CUMBRIA FIRST MEGAS (note you can't use BIRDS NORTHWEST FIRST MEGAS as this includes the Isle of Man, so you have to add each county in Northwest England, apart from the Isle of Man, individually)

Can I opt out of reports of particular species or forms?

No. This may be a feature we add in future releases of the service.

I've asked for first reports only, but you've just sent me a report of a bird that's been around for ages. Why?

There are two main reasons why this can happen:

  • Firstly, if a bird moves. Our automatic system that determines whether a report is a "first" or an update looks for earlier reports of the same species at the same (or a nearby) site; if the "new" site is some distance away (or we don't have a grid reference for one or other site), the system may not detect the earlier reports, so the new report will be treated as a "first".
  • Secondly, if a long-staying bird goes unreported for a long time. The system only looks back for reports that are less than a set number of days old, depending on the rarity of the species involved (this period is extended during the winter months). If a bird goes unreported for longer than this, then is reported again, the new report will be treated as a "first".

We have significantly enhanced this algorithm over the years to reduce the incidence of this problem, but the difficulties of modelling a complex real-world situation in a reasonably simple way on the computer mean that we'll probably never eliminate all such "false firsts". The volume of reports we carry means that a manual system for determining firsts and updates is not practical.

Why have you sent me an untwitchable report when I asked not to receive such reports?

The distinction between a twitchable and an untwitchable report is not always clear, and every birder will have a different definition. In general we err on the side of caution in borderline cases where we're not sure whether a bird might be relocated by a diligent observer, or could return. Our thinking is that most users would prefer to receive an unwanted report than potentially miss out on hearing about a good bird. It's worth noting that the "untwitchable" criterion mainly concerns single or first/early reports; updates on long-staying birds will generally be left marked as twitchable, unless they are long delayed or something about the location of the bird renders all reports untwitchable.

Note that negative reports are not automatically marked as untwitchable. There are two reasons for this apparently counter-intuitive policy:

  • an apparently absent bird may simply be out of sight, or may return
  • imagine you were travelling to see the bird, with your settings set to exclude untwitchable reports: you'd want to know that the bird had gone

Similarly, delayed reports (e.g. those sent out after dark in the evening) are also not automatically marked untwitchable, unless we have good evidence that the bird in question has departed for good.

The twitchable/untwitchable decision is made by our operators at the time the report is received; we do have internal guidelines to promote consistency but we often have to base our decisions on limited information, different operators make different judgements and any such human system will never be infallible. The facility is offered "as is"; it can be used to reduce the number of unwanted messages you get, but we can't guarantee that you'll never receive a report of a bird that turns out to be impossible to see — we don't have a crystal ball!

Can I restrict reports to only those within 10 miles of my home?

Not yet. This facility is available in Bird News Extra and Bird News Anywhere, but not yet in Bird Text Alert or Email Alert. It may be introduced at a later date, but until then the smallest unit of area we deal with is the "county".

Why do/don't you have Avon, Tyne and Wear, Breconshire, Cleveland, Caithness, etc. in your list of counties?

Our list of counties is a considered compromise between existing and easily defined official regions and traditional birding areas. Thus for example Cleveland is still included, although it no longer exists as an official county, as an Annual Report is still published for the area and many local birders still maintain a Cleveland list. Other areas (e.g. Caithness, Breconshire) have been amalgamated with others to form larger units (e.g. Highland and Powys, respectively) as on their own they are small and/or unproductive of bird reports.

For a list of our counties, with notes where appropriate, click here.

If I text in a bird report, won't I lose a credit when you text my own news back to me?

No. When we receive a report by text, the system checks whether the reporter is a Bird Text Alert subscriber. If they are, and the report is used, we credit the reporter's Bird Text Alert account by three credits — two as a "thank you" for the submission and to compensate for the cost of the text, and one for the outgoing text that will result if the report matches the contributor's own Bird Text Alert settings.

More information

Introduction to Bird Text Alert Introduction to Bird Text Alert
User Guide User Guide
Define your settings Define your settings (subscribers only)
Try out some control messages Try out some control messages (subscribers only)
Message Log Message Log (subscribers only)

Other bird news services from BirdGuides

Bird News Extra Bird News Extra
Email Alert Email Alert
Bird News Anywhere Bird News Anywhere

Back to top Back to top

Services Services
Introduction Introduction
User Guide User Guide
Status Status

other FAQs

Bird News Extra Bird News Extra
Email Alert Email Alert
Bird News Anywhere Bird News Anywhere
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