WIBIRDSOUTH – The new rapid report system for rare birds in Southern Wisconsin

This rapid notification service is designed to provide birders with time-sensitive information regarding rare birds or bird-phenomena in Southern Wisconsin. The service operates over the cellular network and requires only a cell phone that can send and receive text messages (i.e. it doesn’t need to be a ‘smart phone’ nor does it need to access the internet, just a simple cellphone with text capabilities will work). The service costs $20/month to administer but is being offered to Wisconsin birders for FREE. While the service is free, depending on your cellular plan you may incur charges for sending and receiving text messages so be sure to check with your carrier.

Quick Start Guide:

To join, simply send a text to 41411 with the following:

SUBSCRIBE wibirdsouth

now you will be signed up to send and receive texts. But you should change your username to something more descriptive, so now send the following to 41411:

wibirdsouth REGISTER NewUserName

…where NewUserName is the name you want to use. Best practices is first initial and last name, in my case it’s dlapuma

If you want to leave the service, simply text the following to 41411:

LEAVE wibirdsouth

—-end of Quick Start—-

Scroll down to USING WIBIRDSOUTH for how to use it, or continue reading for the background…


WIBIRDSOUTH is different from the WisBird list, the WI Birding Network Facebook page and the the MAS posting board. WIBIRDSOUTH text alerts are not intended to replace email lists or other discussion boards, where rarities can be posted, migration phenomena discussed, and questions asked and answered. Instead, this type of text service is useful for very rapid (and brief!) communication about rare bird sightings, in order to minimize lag time between sightings and reports, allowing more individuals to see the reported bird. One important result of this is improving rarity records by getting more people to the site quickly so that records can be corroborated. To this end, text lists usually focus on a small regional area so that users are not overwhelmed by distant reports of birds on the other side of the state, where abundance and rarity levels may differ substantially. Using a text-based service, rather than email, allows one to receive a message any time your phone is on, rather than forcing you to constantly check email in case of rarities. It’s like a centrally-organized phone tree, but without having to call multiple individuals.

As someone interesting in finding rare birds, WIBIRDSOUTH allows you to spend more time birding your favorite areas and less time running all over chasing after rarities of unknown status and/or checking email, webpages and Facebook for updated information. As someone who finds a rare bird, WIBIRDSOUTH again allows you to spend more time focusing on the natural world around you, and less time fumbling to send an email, post to a listserve, or update a Facebook status in order to report it. Just send a quick text through your phone and it is immediately delivered to all subscribers. In a few seconds you’re back doing what you should be doing- birding!


For now WIBIRDSOUTH covers the southern third of Wisconsin, with a rough northern boundary from Vernon to Ozaukee Counties.  This may expand or contract depending on how things evolve. Uuber-rarities (such as state records) found outside of this region may be posted at the discretion of the list- but should be limited to single or very few subsequent posts and subscribers should be directed to other information clearinghouses such as the WISBIRDN listserve.

WIBIRDSOUTH is intended to notify subscribers of RARE and/or VERY INTERESTING sightings that are CHASABLE. While these designations are not hard-and-fast, here are some general guidelines that can help you decide what to post. As a rule, though, it’s better to get the word out quickly and be wrong then to wait and find out you were right after the fact!

RARE – vagrants or noticeably-out-of-season regularly occurring species for our area of interest. Examples would include any of the mega-rarities recently occurring in the area (e.g., Vermilion Flycatcher, Black-legged Kittiwake, Prairie Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler), but also other tough-to-find or out-of-place birds, including county-level rarities. For example, within Dane Co, Lark Sparrow is tough to find, and a Pheasant Branch record of this species might be of interest to Middleton and Dane County birders, even though this species breeds within the range of interest. Scotors, Long-tailed Ducks, Nelson’s and Henslow’s Sparrows, Franklin’s and Sabine’s Gulls, Eared and Red-necked Grebes, and rare winter finches etc. are all examples of appropriate postings to the service.

VERY INTERESTING (phenomena/ sightings) – Exceptional migration events, fallouts, or otherwise notable events which birders would probably ‘jump on’ if given notification.

CHASABLE – this is a big one. If the bird is on private property and NOT chasable, then don’t use this list to mention it. If the bird has flown off with little (or unknown) chance of return (gray area here, I know), then consider whether or not you post it. In both of these cases using the established listserve and submitting to records committees are probably more appropriate. Remember- this is a rapid-response list meant to get people to/on birds as fast as possible, and in the case of rare or very interesting and chasable sightings- is also meant to provide up-to-the-minute status updates.


Once you have subscribed, just send a text to the number 41411. Start your message with the name of the group: WIBIRDSOUTH followed by your message. Here’s an example:

WIBIRDSOUTH Pacific Loon showing well on Lake Mendota. Best viewed from Tenney Park dock

Once you begin receiving texts from 41411, then you can simply reply by typing “.” Instead of WIBIRDSOUTH. For example:

. Pacific Loon still showing well on Lake Mendota from same location



A good example case study would be the recent Vermillion Flycatcher in Rock Co.

Once the bird is found: 1st post to WIBIRDSOUTH:

“Vermillion Fly. at DeLorme and/or Google Maps>, Rock Co., +photos (or) 100% conf.”

If bird significantly changes location: 2nd post to WIBIRDSOUTH:

“VEFL (now we can use 4-letter codes to save space) flew to NE corner of pond, need scope to see”

If the bird flies off and isn’t seen: 2nd post to WIBIRDSOUTH:

“VEFL flew off to NW over farm. Not relocated.”

If bird returns: 4th post to WIBIRDSOUTH:

“VEFL back at original loc. Playing peek-a-boo in green grass. Scope only”


Not every bird will require multiple posts, so this may be more typical:

“3 White-winged Scoter on Mendota, viewable NW from Picnic Pt.”


“Black-throated Gray Warbler on the creek corridor at Pheasant Branch just west of the Parmenter Street Bridge”

“#&$@! BTYW just flew to the west; not yet relocated”


“Prairie Warbler past UW Union heading NE along lakeshore” See, here we have a possibly difficult sighting to ‘chase’, but knowing the general behavior of warblers, we might expect this bird to put down somewhere nearby- and give the proximity to several parks, this would be a perfectly appropriate post to the WIBIRDSOUTH list.


 Please don’t post general questions to the list, such as “how is the birding at the UW Arboretum today?” or “anyone out birding this morning?”, etc. Remember that text messages can cost people money depending on their plans- and the more useless posts that get sent out, the less likely people are to use the service for its actual intention (and the less likely we are to get timely announcements of interesting birds!).

Please don’t post common sightings. “10 Cedar Waxwings in my yard, 230 Atwood Ave., Madison”. These are what our local listserve is for and this text service is NOT a replacement for that. Early and late sightings should also be avoided, unless the species has already been deemed particularly difficult to find.


If you find the service useful, please consider making a small donation to support the overhead costs of administration. You can do so on the following webpage: http://www.keekeekerr.com/TextAlerts/ Just scroll down to the WIBIRDSOUTH section and click on the RUN ON DONATIONS link.

Okay… that’s enough with the rules! Just get out there and find the birds and start texting! If you have any problems signing up, please don’t hesitate to email me at david@woodcreeper.com or call me at 732-447-4894. A hefty thanks to Jesse Ellis and Eric Wood for their extensive input into this document and in shaping the scope of the WIBIRDSOUTH service. I expect them to find a number of WIBIRDSOUTH-worthy birds between now and when I arrive at the end of December.

Good Birding,

David La Puma

Currently out of Cape May, NJ; soon to be resident of Madison, WI




4 Responses to WIBIRDSOUTH

  1. Robin Squier says:

    I tried to register, but they say my phone number is already registered, but my mail is not recognized.

    • Robin-

      Sorry to hear you’re having trouble.
      You don’t need your mail- just your phone number and password. Go to http://lite.textmarks.com/WIBIRDSOUTH and put your phone number and password in the appropriate boxes in the upper right of the page. Click LOGIN. Once you’re logged in, you can click SUBSCRIBE next to the image of the cell phone on that same page. If you are already subscribed, once you log in that area next to the image of the cell phone will say “You are currently SUBSCRIBED to this TextMark”.

      Hope that helps. If not- let me know and I’ll try and figure it out.

      Good BIrding!


  2. Hi David,

    Jackie here from FLWC – wondering if you might send me some information about how you got this feed started? We would like to set up this service (hopefully for free) for our wildlife rescue group, but we don’t know where to start. If you’d be able to send me an e-mail, this would be best.



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