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 Their use has now widely been replaced by other methods of keeping crows away from crops.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.