The History Anorak

The History Anorak

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

The history of the scarecrow

Image from the Daily Telegraph
We recently went to an open gardens day in Repton, South Derbyshire and part of the event was a scarecrow trail. At the tea rooms they were handing out leaflets on the history of scarecrows. This is what the leaflets said:

Why do we have scarecrows?

Farmers have always had a problem with birds eating their crops. Long ago, if there was no corn or wheat to make bread, families would have no staple food. So, for more than 3,000 years, farmers have been making scarecrows to frighten off the birds from their fields.

In Egypt records show that farmers by the Nile river enticed quail birds into big nets which were set on poles; then they took their catch home and cooked them for dinner!

About 2,500 years ago the Greeks were modelling their scarecrows on a man who was said to be so ugly that, when he was by the fields, he scared the birds away. The Romans copied the Greeks  and made similar carved scarecrows.

As the Romans conquered lands, including England, they introduced this idea of a human-like scarecrow. It became a widespread practice, even as far as Japan. The Japanese originally scared birds away from their rice fields with bad-smelling poles called kakashis. These gradually took on a more human form. In Germany they made them look like witches.

Over the centuries each country was developing its own style. In Medieval Britain the task was done by boys of nine or older. They patrolled the fields with bags of stones to throw at the birds and chase them off. They were called bird scarers or bird shooers!

In 1348 Britain's population halved because of the Great Plague, so bird scarers were in very short supply. Farmers turned to stuffing sacks with straw, carving faces out of turnips and standingthese mede-up bird scarers on poles in their fields. Boys and girls continued to patrol the fields but now they used wooden clapp0ers whose noise scared off whole flocks of birds.

In North America the native American tribes also used human bird scarers, usually adults. In the southwest the Zuni tribe held contests to see who could make the most unusual scarecrow.When people from Europe emigrated to America they took their ideas with them, such as making a bogeyman and bogeywife to keep guard at each end of a field!

Scarecrows are still used all over the world; spraying crops with chemicals was found to be harmful to humans and the noise created by automatic crop protectors was harmful to their ears! In the east stones are still thrown to scare away the birds. In the growing season scarecrows can still be seen in fields, allotments and gardens and many farming communities, like the Zuni tribe in America, hold scarecrow contests.

As long as birds are hungry and farmers are growing crops to feed the people, they will look for ways to ... scare crows!

There's no clue on the leaflet about who wrote the words. If it's you, just contact The Anorak and I'll be happy to credit you.


  1. Our open gardens here in the village is on July 12th and there is also a Scarecrow Festival - some of them are very elaborate.

  2. We had a scarecrow making competition in our village last year and i think it's happening again this year. I've seen them elsewhere on my travels too. I didn't realise that making scarecrows was a worldwide thing though it makes sense once you start to think about it - pretty much everyone grows crops of some sort and there are always hungry birds about.

  3. Learn something every day! Thank you.

  4. Fascinating read - a village not far from here in the Staffordshire Moorlands has a scarecrow festival each year and some of them are very elaborate and modern in topic. I guess this is where the saying 'stone the crows' comes from? I've seen several scarecrows in gardens at historic houses we've visited over the last few years - always in the kitchen or walled gardens:)


Why not add your two pennyworth?