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Do Scarecrows Really Scare Birds?

Dana Hinders
Updated May 16, 2024
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A scarecrow is a special type of mannequin that some farmers place in fields to attempt to discourage crows from disturbing fragile crops and gardens. Crows are disruptive because they feed on recently cast seeds and frequently form large and noisy flocks of up to 30 birds. In addition, the territorial nature of the birds causes them to return to the same location on a nightly basis. Unfortunately, farmers have since discovered that crows are adaptable and highly intelligent creatures, so a scarecrow’s effectiveness at scaring birds is quite limited. Their use has now widely been replaced by other methods of keeping crows away from crops.

First used in Europe in the late 1500s, farm families would stuff old clothes with straw to create a menacing looking figure that they hoped would frighten crows away from the freshly planted corn. Before the use of scarecrows became common, a dead crow hung upside down from a pole was the most popular way of dealing with problems caused by the pesky birds.

Scarecrows are known throughout the world, although they called different names in some counties. In Scotland, for example, one is called a tattie bogle. In Sommerset, England, they are commonly referred to as mommets.

For the gardener, flexible bird netting purchased from a hardware or garden store is an inexpensive alternative way to keep crows at bay. A motion sensor combined with a sprinkler system is another effective strategy, since spraying the birds with a blast of water provides a startling stimulus that discourages them from returning to the area. Pie tins hung in nearby trees can provide some protection, although most experienced gardeners believe crows will quickly learn to see through this trick.

For the farmer with a larger field to protect, automatic noise guns that are powered by propane gas are said to be quite effective at reducing the problems caused by crows. Reflective PET film ribbons are also a popular alternative in several commercial farming projects. Recorded crow distress and warning calls can be used to dispel crows from a night roost.

Today, scarecrows are most often used as a seasonal fall decoration. Children, perhaps inspired by the popular image of the friendly scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz , often create their own with the help of their parents. People can also purchase pre-made ones at craft stores, party supply shops, and stores that specialize in Halloween decor.

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Dana Hinders
By Dana Hinders
With a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Iowa, Dana Hinders brings a strong foundation to her work as a freelance writer. After discovering her passion for freelance writing following the birth of her son, Dana has been a vital part of the HomeQuestionsAnswered team. She also showcases her versatility by creating sales copy and content for e-courses and blogs.
Discussion Comments
By anon310439 — On Dec 22, 2012

My scarecrow worked quite well, although it didn't keep all the birds off my lawn.

Personally, I think crows are the easiest birds to scare as they seem to be the dumbest, but sparrows and mynah birds are quite smart and seem to work things out quite quickly.

By turquoise — On Dec 19, 2012

I have a bird problem. They hang out on my balcony, make nests and poop everywhere. I tried putting a plastic owl, it didn't work. Neither did the hologram tape.

By bluedolphin — On Dec 19, 2012

Yea, scarecrows don't really scare birds, not for too long anyway. I also think that crows are the most difficult birds to scare because they live between thirty and seventy years. So the chances that a crow has seen a scarecrow in another field is very high. Scaring birds definitely takes some imagination.

Of all the ideas I've heard so far, the sprinkler system sounds like the best. I know my parakeet hates being sprayed with water for a bath so that would definitely scare him off.

By burcinc — On Dec 18, 2012

@anon84480-- What we've actually been trying is hanging old CDs on sticks across the field. The CDs reflect light and make some noise when there is wind.

It worked really well for several weeks. There were no crows whatsoever. But these birds are too smart and adapt to anything. Soon enough, they figured out that the CDs are harmless and now we just have a bunch of CDs in the field with bird poop on them.

By giddion — On Dec 08, 2012

My neighbor just places a white t-shirt cut in strips on a wooden pole in the middle of her corn garden. The wind blows the strips everywhere and makes it look really spooky. I'm guessing that it works, because she had a big corn harvest this year.

By Kristee — On Dec 07, 2012

@feasting – That would be funny, especially since many crows have gotten used to the look of scarecrows and deem them harmless. If I had the time, I would try that!

For now, I will just stick with my scarecrow motion sprinkler. Apparently, crows don't like being taken off guard by a sudden shower, because they fly away quickly.

I think it is the most efficient and quiet method of scaring crows. I don't waste a lot of water with it, either, since it only squirts when they are present.

By feasting — On Dec 06, 2012

If you have some time to kill and get a kick out of scaring birds, dress up in a scarecrow costume and stand really still in your garden. They will get quite a surprise when you suddenly come to life and spring toward them!

My best friend filmed himself doing this, and it was hilarious. I think that a live scarecrow is about the only kind that will actually be effective, and it might just be scary enough to keep them from returning.

By Oceana — On Dec 06, 2012

There was a story in my local newspaper not long ago about a family who was fed up with their neighbor's automatic propane gun that he used to scare away crows. Obviously, a regular scarecrow had not done the trick, so he bought this gun to get rid of them.

The problem was that it started going off early in the morning and waking the neighbors up. If they dozed off again, it would wake them shortly, and they would be really upset.

I understand their frustration. I think it's inconsiderate of the farmer to use this method of scaring crows, and he should be subject to the same noise pollution laws as everyone else in the county.

By anon84480 — On May 16, 2010

If you're having problems with Crows or Magpies try a CD that emits sounds that deters them away from your property.

By dobrinj — On Mar 04, 2009

i sometimes see strips of mylar on crops to scare away birds... they create lots of bright reflections, but i cannot attest to their effectiveness.

putting nets around your entire field is perhaps the most effective way of keeping birds at bay. you just need to make sure that the holes are big enough to allow bees to freely pass in and out.

Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders
With a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Iowa, Dana Hinders brings a strong foundation to...
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