Scarecrows are used all around the world. The idea behind them is simple – take the form of a human to scare away birds and stop them from eating crops. But where do they come from? And who invented them?
The history of scarecrows is quite an interesting tale – one that spans thousands of years across multiple continents.
What Did People Use Before Scarecrows Were Invented?
As long as humans have farmed crops, birds have been there to peck at them. So people have always needed a way to scare them away.
Before scarecrows, farmers would use a variety of different methods as a deterrent. Some would actually hang a dead crow upside down on a pole (a method that seems barbaric today)! This was supposed to send a message to other birds that the same fate awaited them, if they ate the farmer’s crops.
Other farmers would instead use children to scare away birds. The children would use wooden clappers to make loud noises, throw rocks at birds, and even use fire to send smoke into the air as a deterrent.
It’s believed that Europeans turned to scarecrows sometime after the Bubonic Plague. This is because the plague decimated population numbers, and there simply weren’t enough children left to effectively scare birds away from farmland! Farmers began to stuff old clothing with straw and place the scarecrows in a field in the hope they’d scare away the birds.
Who Invented The Scarecrow?
The first known scarecrow was created by Egyptians thousands of years ago. Farmers hung tunics on reeds to scare quail away from their crops located along the Nile river. Other reports suggest that they constructed wooden frames, upon which they hung nets. They chased the quail towards the nets to catch and eat them.
The next reported use of scarecrows is by Greek farmers in 2,500 B.C. They carved wooden figures in the image of Priapus, a god of animal and vegetable fertility. His grotesque figure was said to scare away birds. The Priapus scarecrows were often given a club in one hand to cause fear, and a sickle in the other as an offering to the Gods, intended to ensure a good harvest.
Romans adopted the Priapus statues shortly after the Greeks invented them. As their armies moved across Europe, they introduced these strange-looking scarecrows to the local people, making them widespread across the continent.
Scarecrows Were Also Used In Japan Thousands Of Years Ago
Around the same time the Romans and Greeks started using scarecrows, farmers in Japan were doing the same thing. Many made decoys shaped like humans which they dressed in a coat and a round straw hat. They often gave them bows and arrows to make them more menacing, and therefore more effective, at scaring away birds.
Interestingly, the oldest known literary work in Japan, a book called Kojiki, features a scarecrow called Kuebiko. Kuebiko is a god shaped in the form of a scarecrow. Although unable to walk, Kuebiko knows everything about the world.
When Did People In America Start Using Scarecrows?
The history of scarecrows in the U.S.A. dates back to Native Americans. They would use scarecrows or bird scarers to protect their crops from birds. The bird scarer was typically an adult man who would move into a hut next to their cornfield during the growing season, so they could keep a watchful eye over their crops.
During the 1800s, German immigrants brought with them the “Bootzamon,” or bogeyman to America. This scarecrow was a human-like figure dressed in overalls or a long-sleeved shirt, and a woolen or straw hat. Sometimes, farmers would also place a female version, called the “Bootzafrau” or bogeywife, at the other end of the field.
By the time the Great Depression happened in 1929, scarecrows could be found all across America. However, after World War II, it became very common for farmers to dust their crops with pesticides to keep away pests and birds, so scarecrows became much less common.
The classic style of scarecrow is still used in many places around the world. However, they have their limitations. While they may work at first, birds typically become used to scarecrows, and fly straight past them to eat the crops they guard. This has led people to use technology in the hopes of creating more effective scarecrows.
There are a wide range of high-tech scarecrows that are available to farmers today. Inventions such as 3-D printed robotic birds that swoop and soar… drones that fly around crop fields on autopilot to scare away birds… or a sonic bird cannon that lets off loud noises to send birds flying away… technology has changed the way modern industrial farmers look at deterring birds. Of course, nets are often used as well to keep birds away, depending on the type of crop.
Many of these modern scarecrows are very expensive, making them of little use to the average homeowner with a veggie patch. As such, the humble scarecrow can still be seen in many gardens around the world.
Scarecrows In Popular Culture
Scarecrows have had a significant cultural impact throughout their history. They feature prominently in popular culture.
One of the most famous examples is the scarecrow from L. Frank Baum’s tale The Wizard Of Oz. The scarecrow is one of the main characters, who journeys along with Dorothy and the others to find the Wizard, desperately hoping to obtain brains for his body.
The scarecrow is also celebrated during numerous festivals around the world. One example is the Urchfont Scarecrow Festival in England, which was established in the 1990s. It attracts up to 10,000 people annually for the May Day Bank Holiday.
Another scarecrow festival is held in the U.S.A. in Peddler’s Village, Pennsylvania. Held from September-October, this festival features a scarecrow display that draws tens of thousands of visitors!
What’s Next In The History Of The Scarecrow?
While scarecrows play an important role in history, how common they’ll be in the future remains uncertain. Technology is advancing at a rapid rate, providing so many more effective methods for keeping birds away from crops.
At some point, it’s likely scarecrows as we currently know them will cease to exist. For now though, the scarecrow is still an important figure – not just in our gardens, but also in popular culture around the world.