One thing I enjoy about working at Wild Birds Unlimited is playing bird detective – attempting to help people identify the birds in their yards. Usually, they describe what they are seeing, and I ask lots of questions.

“Was it smaller than a crow, bigger than a breadbox? Did it have wing bars? What shape was the beak? ”

Considering their descriptions, I pull out our much-worn shop copy of David Sibley’s “Birds of North America” and turn to a variety of pages. “Did it look like this? What about this?”

Then along comes spring, with its symphony of bird song. About the only thing more challenging than identifying a bird based on a description of its appearance is making an ID based on the description of a call.

Recently, a customer came in puzzled by a bird that was singing incessantly in her back yard. She recounted its serenade as sounding like “pretty-bird, pretty-bird” followed by a short trill.

I grabbed the “Identiflyer,” a small machine with 10 buttons that uses interchangeable cards, each containing 10 birds. I began playing the calls of some of the most common backyard birds.

“Teakettle, teakettle, teakettle” the tiny Carolina wren intoned.

“No,” she said. “That wasn’t it.”

“Purdy, purdy, purdy… what cheer, cheer cheer,” chirped the Northern cardinal.

She shook her head “no.”

“Drink your teeeeeea, drink your teeeeeea, ” trilled the Eastern towhee.

Again she shook her head.

Finally, I changed to the “Forest Edge” card and pressed the button for a familiar friend, our Georgia state bird. As she listened to the burry couplets, her puzzlement turned to delight.

“That’s him … can’t you hear it? ‘pretty bird, pretty bird,’ ” and then that sort of trill.”

I advised her to search the nearby treetops for Mr. Brown Thrasher. When spring arrives, he abandons his usual pursuit – searching for worms in the leaf litter – in favor of claiming a territory and wooing a mate.

Each spring, as the morning symphony increases in volume and complexity, I am grateful for the hours spent listening to the Peterson “Birding by Ear” tapes, mostly while driving around town.

Just as a connoisseur of orchestral music can pick out the distinct sounds of violin, viola, flute, oboe, trombone or snare drum, I have trained my ear to distinguish the individual voices of spring’s feathered choir.

Perhaps easiest to pick out are the birds with a call that sort of matches their name.

The lilting “chick-a-dee-dee-dee, chick-a-dee-dee-dee,” lets me know that the tiny Carolina chickadee with his black cap and white cheek patch is in the neighborhood. Assuming the role of the brass section, five or six blue jays blare out “jay, jay, jay.” And in the dark before dawn, one of my favorite spring visitors jars the night with his ringing “chuck-will’s widow, chuck-will’s widow.”

Some birds opt for simplicity, relying on looks rather than voice, to attract their mates. Any day now I expect to hear a sharp “weeep, weeep,” or an unmelodic “skeow,” announcing that the great crested flycatchers and the green herons are back in town.

The glowingly yellow pine warbler is one of a handful of birds that sings year-round. However, when spring arrives, it seems that his evenly pitched musical trill rings out from the top of each and every pine tree.

The American robin goes in for musical theater, contributing a sing-song “tweedle-dum, tweedle-dee,” as well as a harsher, staccato descending whinny.

The vireos are also sing-songers. They come in an assortment of colorful flavors (blue-headed, red-eyed, yellow-throated) and boast slower, slightly whiny calls that can be likened to “here I am, where are you?”

The tiny ruby crowned kinglet attempts to make up for his small size with impressive vocal dexterity. He begins his serenade with several high pitched “zeet, zeet, zeet” notes, followed by a complex tumbling torrent of song. For visual emphasis, he raises and fluffs his ruby crown.

Purple martins and American goldfinches also seem to delight in complexity, sending up a bubbling chatter of chirps, whistles and trills.

And for percussion, there is the loud drumming of the red-bellied woodpecker, interspersed with the squawks of boat-tailed grackles, and descending grunts of the clapper rails.

No offense to Click and Clack, but they can have “Car Talk.” I’ll take “Bird Talk” any day, but most especially in the spring.