Scarecrows have been around since ancient times. Their purpose was to scare crows and other birds that feed on crops, causing damage to otherwise plentiful harvests. Would you believe that scarecrows started differently from what we know today? While there are still farmers that use scarecrows, they have evolved. Let us learn what they were like in the past and what they look like today.
Who invented the first scarecrow?
The Egyptians invented the first scarecrow, using it to protect their wheat fields. Rather than flying birds, quails raided their fields constantly. Instead of clothing and hay, the scarecrows Egyptian farmers used were poles draped with nets to catch the quails, which they cooked for their dinner.
The first scarecrow’s key contributors (and evolution)
- EgyptiansOriginal scarecrow users
The Egyptians were the first to use scarecrows made of wooden poles draped with nets to catch the quails that raided their wheat fields regularly.
- Greeks and RomansUgliness to scare birds (and people)
The Greeks and Romans used the image of Priapus, considered as a very ugly god to drive away birds from their vineyards. They spread the use of Priapus-looking scarecrows in the countries they conquered.
- JapaneseBurning scarecrows
The Japanese farmers built kakashis, which were made of bamboo poles with noisemakers and old rags. The smell from the burning kakashis drove the birds away.
- German immigrantsRed handkerchief for the bootzamon
German immigrants that settled in the United States used scarecrows called bootzamon (bogeyman). The human-looking scarecrows were dressed in old clothes and red handkerchief tied around their necks.
- Native AmericansAdult human bird scarers
Native Americans also used human bird scarers, although they used adults instead of children. Some tribes moved their huts near their field during the planting season to protect their crops.
When was the first scarecrow invented?
The first scarecrow was invented more than 3,000 years ago. The Egyptians farming along the Nile River faced the problem of quails raiding their wheat fields. They used wooden frames with nets. The farmers hid in the fields and chased the quails toward the scarecrows, preventing the quails from destroying their crop and catching the birds as food.
A brief history of the first scarecrow
You can trace the origin of scarecrows to the rural lifestyle of old. The first scarecrows came from the Egyptians, who used them to protect the wheat fields they planted along the Nile River. During that time, quails were their enemies. Instead of the scarecrows we know today, the Egyptians erected wooden frames with nets as covering. The farmers hid in the fields. When the quails came, they drove the quails toward the net. Thus, they could save their crop and have bird meat for dinner.
Around 2,500 BC, the Greek farmers made wooden scarecrows that looked like Priapus. Priapus, a god who was the son of Dionysus and Aphrodite, was said to be ugly enough to scare people and birds. The farmers placed the scarecrows in their vineyards. They painted the scarecrows purple. Each one held a sickle in one hand for a good harvest and a club in the other to prevent the birds from eating the grapes.
The Romans followed the Greek tradition of using the image of Priapus for their version of the scarecrow. On the other side of the world, Japanese farmers created scarecrows for their rice fields. Their version, which they called kakashis, was made of bamboo poles with noisemakers and draped with dirty rags. They set the kakashis on fire, which produced a smell that drove birds away. Later, they made their scarecrows look more like people. They dressed their scarecrows in raincoats and straw hats, with bows and arrows to make them more frightening.
The early form of a scarecrow in Germany looked like wooden witches. The German farmers believed that putting wooden scarecrows would make spring come faster. The tradition was different in Medieval Britain where farmers hired young girls and boys to scare birds. Those bird scarers go around the fields, throwing stones at the birds or waving their arms to scare them. Later, the British farmers replaced the live scarecrows with sacks stuffed with straw. They gave their scarecrow faces made of painted gourds and leaned them on poles.
But in some countries, the scarecrows could be pretty scary. Some Italian farmers, for example, used animal skulls on their scarecrows.
While some farmers still scarecrows today, the modern version, which looks friendlier than scary, is more of a decorative item during harvest festivals.
The first scarecrow timeline
- 30th century BCPoles and nets for scarecrows
Egyptian wheat farmers used wooden poles with nets to catch the quails that wreaked havoc on their fields before harvest time.
- 25th century BCPriapus to scare the birds
Romans and Greeks popularized the use of Priapus-like scarecrows. Priapus, a god of fertility was considered ugly enough to scare not only birds but people. Farmers placed them in their vineyards to shoo birds away.
- 15th century ADHuman bird scarers
British farmers hired young boys and girls to patrol their fields and throw stones at the birds.
- 18th century ADBirth of the bogeyman
German immigrants that settled in the United States started using scarecrows they eventually called bogeyman. Their scarecrows wore old clothing with the distinctive red handkerchief on its neck.
- 21st century ADDynamic scarecrows
Many farmers today do not use straw scarecrows and wooden poles. Instead, they tie shimmering and reflective ribbons and other items to plants. Others use automatic noise guns and drones.
Where was the first scarecrow invented?
The first scarecrows were invented in Egypt. The Egyptians used wooden frames. Instead of adding hay and clothing to make the scarecrows appear human, they had nets on the poles. The farmers drove the quails toward the net to catch them.
The importance of the first scarecrow
- Scaring crows and other birds
The first scarecrows were meant to scare crows and other birds that were the bane of farmers. Crows dug out the seeds they just planted, pecked at fruits randomly, and ate developing seedlings.
- Human-like bird scarers
The human-like figures were supposed to frighten the birds and keep them away from crops.
- Valuable crop-savers
In the old days, scarecrows prevented crows and other birds from destroying wheat and other grains, vegetables, and fruits that humans used as food. In addition, scarecrows limited the number of crops that birds, deer, squirrels, and other animals from ruining valuable crops.
- Keeping cultural traditions
Farmers in rural areas still use scarecrows as part of their tradition. The scarecrows help keep their cultural heritage alive.
- Big help for small farmers and gardeners
Many local farmers and backyard gardeners still rely on scarecrows. They use the scarecrows to drive away annoying birds and other critters that visit their farms and gardens in search of food.
First scarecrow by the numbers
- 4,325Gatlinburg, Tennessee, displayed 4,325 scarecrows around the city in 2019. The feat earned them the Guinness World Record for the largest display of scarecrows.
- 10,000The Urchfont Scarecrow Festival in England usually gathers up to 10,000 people annually to celebrate the event.
- 1Ray Bolger played the role of Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz. He wore a face prosthetic for the part, which left a pattern of lines on his face. It took one year for the marks to disappear completely.
- 2,495In the province of Isabela, Philippines, Iligan City won the Guinness World Record for the most number of dancing scarecrows in 2019. The total number of street performers was 2,495.
- 3,000The first scarecrow is more than 3,000 years old. Egyptians were the first to use scarecrows to protect their wheat fields from quails.
Five facts about the first scarecrow
- Egyptians used the first scarecrows
About 3,000 years ago, the Egyptians became the first to use scarecrows. They erected the scarecrows along the Nile River to protect their wheat fields from being raided by flocks of quails.
- The ugliness keeps birds away
Priapus, the son of Aphrodite and Dionysus, became the model of the scarecrows the Greeks made. According to the myth, Priapus was so ugly that even the birds were scared of him. Yet, despite the ugliness that drove birds away, he was the god of gardens, livestock, vegetables, and fertility.
- The smell of decay does it
Japanese farmers used to hang fish bones, meat, and old rags to protect their crops. The smell of the rotting flesh and fish drove all creatures away.
- 20-ft high air dancers
Vineyard owners in New York used air dancers as scarecrows. Air dancers are inflatable tube men that are 20 feet high.
- Scarecrows replaced boys
After the Great Plague in Medieval Britain, farmers used scarecrows. Previously, farmers hired boys to wander around their fields, throwing stones at the birds.
FAQs about the first scarecrow
- What is the purpose of scarecrows?
A scarecrow is a dummy or decoy shaped like a human. They are usually dressed in old clothes and are placed in the open fields. Their primary purpose is to prevent birds from feeding on recently cast seeds and disturbing growing crops.
- Are scarecrows effective?
Yes, they are still effective in small gardens. However, birds will quickly sense that scarecrows are not human. To make them more effective, you can add noisemakers, spinners, and shiny, reflective objects such as old CDs, pieces of mirrors and glass, and foil. Change their locations frequently and dress them in brighter clothing.
- What is a modern scarecrow?
Modern scarecrows do not resemble humans. Instead, they can rumble like thunder, prowl the skies, or spew water.
- Where did the term scarecrow come from?
The term is a combination of scare + crow. It was first used in the 1550s to refer to a person employed to scare away birds.
- Are crows afraid of scarecrows?
Scarecrows were made initially to scare crows, blackbirds, and other birds away from crops. Crows avoid humans; thus, farmers made scarecrows look like them. However, crows and other birds may avoid going to the fields to feed for a week or two. But once they realize that the scarecrows do not move, they ignore them.