For some people the sight of robins is the first sign of spring. In Westport, the harbinger of spring and the promise of warmer weather arrives with the annual Project Return Birdhouse Stroll.

The 13th annual Birdhouse Stroll took place this year on a Sunday afternoon for the first time, with hundreds of strollers and shoppers taking advantage of the sunshine that warmed downtown to temperatures above freezing. The break in stormy winter weather allowed for relaxed browsing of the creative birdhouses and related works by 128 artists that will be auctioned for the benefit of Project Return later this month.

The whimsical bird art was perched in the storefronts along Main Street, Taylor Place and Post Road, with the creations ranging from functional birdhouses, paintings, sculptures and other donated art. Most are on view downtown, but one is on display at Mitchell's of Westport about a mile away.

Among this year's flock of birdhouses are: Fairfield artist Bobbi Herman's working clock depicting indigenous song birds titled "Time to Fly;" a stained-glass birdhouse called "Room with a View" by Kelly Quatrella of Trumbull; "Westport's Affordable Housing," a large birdhouse with 16 entrances made by Westport artist Nina Bentley; a crocheted wool birdhouse by Westport's Beate Hochman, and Diane Yormark's "Tic Tac Crow" ceramic boarding birdhouse. The Westport artist's piece could serve as an outdoor birdhouse for returning songbirds, an indoor art object or a nine movable piece gaming board. "After all, why should the birds have all the fun?" she said.

Jennifer Katzner of Westport, said she and her daughter Chloe, 2½, enjoyed the "artistic individuality."

"It's very clever, very inventive. We love the whimsy. You give everyone the same assignment and get everything from your basic wooden birdhouse to ceramic chalets, all for a good cause," said Camille DeSantis, joined by Rene Hadley, both of Norwalk who were taking their first "Stroll."

Westport artist Linn Cassetta created a two-dimensional egg comprising hundreds of eggshell shards, titled "Unbroken," in tribute to the hundreds of young women who have benefited from the Project Return group home and its programs.

"From many shattered pieces one can make a whole," she said.

"It's a wonderful cause, which is the main thing for me, and each year is a challenge," said Carol Brezovec, one of five Westport artists who have contributed birdhouses and other art work to the auction for every one of its 20 years. The others are Miggs Burroughs, Cathy Osterhout, Dick Reilly and Patricia Scanlon, who now lives in Easton.

Project Return, now in its 29th year, was established in 1986 to meet the special needs of adolescent girls in crisis, giving them a home, love and support system. Birdhouses symbolize the nurturing environment of Project Return because they are "a safe haven for birds on a journey," according to the agency. Similarly, Project Return is considered a way station for teens and young women "who are rebuilding their lives and finding their wings," according to Renee Gold, coordinator of education and after care.

The agency's programs are funded in part by the annual Birdhouse Auction Gala scheduled for March 27 at Rolling Hills Country Club in Wilton. Past auctions have raised $100,000.

For more information about Project Return or to purchase tickets for the Birdhouse Auction Gala, visit www.projectreturnct.org or call 203- 291-6402.