On Thursday, March 20, the calendar will say it's the first day of spring.

And so will the scores of imaginative birdhouses that will go on display in downtown retail stores and restaurants.

The Birdhouse Stroll is planned downtown on Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m., providing a first look at artist-made, avian abodes that will be auctioned off next month to benefit Project Return. It is free.

The nonprofit Project Return operates a group home on Compo Road North for adolescent girls and young women in crisis, and the birdhouses symbolize the safe haven the agency provides.

More than 130 artists have made and donated birdhouses for the 19th annual auction scheduled April 5 at the Rolling Hills Country Club in Wilton, Project Return said in a news release. Proceeds from the auction have become the agency's chief source of funding.

As in recent years, the 2014 flock of birdhouses reflect various themes -- whimsical, witty, elegant, romantic and contemplative, according to the release.

Westport graphic artist Miggs Burroughs has fashioned "Connections," one of his lenticular pieces featuring multiple pairs of hands.

Westport home and garden emporium Terrain has designed "Birch Landing," an organic piece made of birch wood, driftwood, mosses, and other greenery, Project Return said.

Weston couple Audrey and Drew Klotz created a birdhouses that touches on flight and pharaohs. It combines her "feathery fascinator hats and his giant `King Nutankhamon' nutcracker, according to the release.

Birdhouses will remain on display until the auction.

Thursday's stroll steps off at 6 p.m. with a welcoming reception at Eileen Fisher, 160 Main St.

West Elm at 37 Main Street will offer strollers hot cocoa and dessert, while Faye Kim Designs at 190 Main St. will offer champagne and "small bites."

The Spotted Horse, 26 Church St., will donate 10 percent of its evening bar revenue to Project Return, the agency said.

In addition to shelter in its group home, Project Return offers its clients aftercare services, clinical and educational services, and an after-school community service program.

Tickets for the auction are $125 each will be available for sale throughout the evening at Eileen Fisher and West Elm. In addition to bidding on the birdhouses, the event will include cocktails and food and music performed by DNR, the Fairfield County band made up almost entirely of physicians.

For more information about Project Return or the Birdhouse Stroll and Auction, visit www.projectreturnct.org or call Project Return at 203-291-6402.