What Is a Scarecrow and How Does It Work?
A scarecrow is a decoy propping on stick in human form that farmers often place in fields to discourage crows or small birds from disturbing fragile crops and gardens. Crows and small birds like sparrows are disruptive because they feed on recently cast seeds and growing crops frequently form large and noisy flocks of up to thirty birds.
Humanoid scarecrows are usually dressed in old clothes and placed in open fields; they are used across the world and are a notable symbol of farms and the countryside in popular culture. They are very useful for farmers. Unfortunately, farmers have discovered that these birds are adaptable and highly intelligent creatures. This means that a scarecrow’s effectiveness of scaring birds is quite limited.
Machinery such as windmill has been employed as scarecrows, but the effectiveness lessens as animal become familiar with the structures. In the southern Appalachians, another common method of scaring off crows was use of a dead crow hung upside down from a pole. Modern scarecrows though still essentially decoys, seldom take a human shape.
More effective methods have been developed. On California farmland, highly reflective aluminized PET film ribbons are tied to the plants to create shimmers from the sun. Another approach is using automatic noise guns powered by propane gas. One winery in New York uses inflatable tube men or air dancers to scare away birds.
Though traditional scarecrows seem to have lost their scare, and are not as widely used as bird scarers as they were in the decades gone by, these simple, homemade harvest helpers are now enjoying a revival as an art form. Today, scarecrows are most often used for decorations.
Children, perhaps inspired by the popular image of the friendly scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, often create their own scarecrows with the help of their parents. There are many scarecrow festivals in autumn in farming communities in the U.S.A., and in Britain. These are a great way for people to show their creativity, and have become very popular tourist attractions too.
In the UK, the Urchfont Scarecrow Festival was established in the 1990s and has grown into a major local event, attracting up to 10,000 people annually for the May Day Bank Holiday. Originally based on an idea imported from Derbyshire, it was certainly the first to be established in Wiltshire, and was possibly the first in the whole of southern England. Fovant Scarecrows, near Salisbury, started in 2014 to raise funds for the Fovant Youth Club.
Belbroughton, north Worcestershire, has been holding an annual Scarecrow Weekend on the last weekend of each September since 1996, which raises money for local charities. The village of Meerbrook in Staffordshire holds an annual Scarecrow Festival during the month of May. Tetfordand Salmonby, Lincolnshire jointly hosts one.
The festival at Wray, Lancashire was established in the early 1990s and continues to the present day. In the village of Orton, Eden, Cumbria scarecrows are displayed each year, often using topical themes such as a Dalek exterminating a Wind turbine to represent local opposition to a wind farm.
The village of Blackrod, near Bolton in Greater Manchester holds a popular annual Scarecrow Festival over a weekend usually in early July.
Norland, West Yorkshire has a festival. Kettlewell in North Yorkshire has held an annual festival since 1994. In Teesdale, County Durham, the villages of Cotherstone, Staindrop and Middleton-in-Teesdale have annual scarecrow festivals.
Scotland’s first scarecrow festival was held in West Kilbride, North Ayrshire in 2004, and there is also one held in Montrose. On the Isle of Skye, the Tattie bogal event, is held each year, scarecrow trail, and other events. Gisburn, Lancashire held its first Scarecrow Festival in June 2014.
In Dymchurch on Romney Marsh a man dressed as a scarecrow has ridden down the street annually since 1964 in celebration of local author Russell Thorndike’s Dr Syn books. In 2008 he was required to walk due to health and safety regulations. Tonbridge in Kent also host an annual Scarecrow Trail, organised by the local Rotary Club to raise money for local charities. In the US, St. Charles, Illinois hosts an annual Scarecrow Festival.
The ‘pumpkin people’ come in the fall months in the valley region of Nova Scotia, Canada. They are scarecrows with pumpkin heads doing various things such as playing the fiddle or riding a wooden horse. Hickling, in the south of Nottinghamshire, is another village that celebrates an annual scarecrow event. It is very popular and has successfully raised a great deal of money for charity. Meaford, Ontario has celebrated the Scarecrow Invasion since 1996.
In the Philippines, the Province of Isabela has recently started a scarecrow festival named after the local language: Bambanti Festival. The Province invites all its Cities and Towns to participate for the festivities that lasts a week, and has drawn tourists from around the island of Luzon.
The largest gathering of scarecrows in one location is 3,812 and was achieved by National Forest Adventure Farm (UK) in Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire, UK, on 7 August 2014.