Who can forget the Wicked Witch of the West asking the Scarecrow if he would like to play a little ball as she throws a fireball his way? As scary as the Wizard of Oz seems to be to the young, it wasn't the scarecrow that put fear into us, but the witch! So, why is it we call this endearing character a scarecrow?
The history of the scarecrow goes back for nearly 3,000 years. Obviously its intent was to scare off the crows, as they are one of the largest birds and can consume a great deal of grain from the fields at the time of planting or during harvest.
Usually the scarecrows resemble a human with old farmer's clothes and stuffed with rags, leaves, straw, and other re-useable materials. Some, from back in the time of the Egyptians and Greeks, made them out of wood in the likeness of a god or goddess. These props would act as a human presence and keep the birds from gathering for food.
During the medieval times of Britain, the scarecrows originated as actual young children who would go through the fields throwing stones when birds would land in the fields. They would also bang on items called clappers (two pieces of flat wood banged together) to chase them away. After the Great Plague in Britain killed nearly half of the people in 1348, there were not enough people to work the fields. Thus, they made the scarecrows out of stuffed sacks of straw and carved faces out of gourds and turnips, which stood against a pole.
Through the years, these objects of fear continue to pop up in various areas. Even during the early settlement of the Americas, these scarecrows would appear in the fields. In the 1700's, so much grain was eaten by the crows that farmers set a bounty out to kill as many of them as possible. Eventually their populations decreased and soon the crops started to get eaten by the corn borers and other worms and insects that the crows used to feed upon.
It is always amazing to me how the past continues to repeat the same circle every century as we introduce one thing to eradicate another. In this process, we just create a new evil that we have to correct. One must learn that there is a certain balance in nature. We may only view it from one side and see the destruction, but from another view they become beneficial. Of course, a balance only occurs in the plant and animal world when left to alone to nature.
With the balance in nature and the evolution of time, where did the use of the scarecrow go in the modern world? Today they are seen more as an item of decoration in the fall period. They are adorned with old clothes, straw hats, straw stuffing and bright colors. Usually surrounded by harvested vegetables, hay bales, bright leaves, pumpkins and gourds, they seem to watch over this bountiful harvest more as a display than for a functional objective.
Some scarecrows are cute, some are large and some are small, while others are old and worn and seem to have lost their flair. Whatever condition they are in, they still bring back a little bit of the history of where the scarecrow originated, if not, a little curiosity.
Sometimes we will actually see a crow or a bird sitting upon one in the yard. It is not that these items can no longer scare away a bird or crow, it is simply the birds got smart and are now familiar with this character in the garden or field that does not seem to move. When the fear is gone, the birds return to their feeding grounds.
Still, in some places today, they are still used in combination with gunpowder muskets that are set to timers in the fields. At periodic times, they go off and scare the birds away. The use of metal pans and plates, shiny streamers and foil, and many other things that make movement and noise in the wind are attached to poles or upon scarecrows to make the area more unappealing to the birds. Numerous items have been used and continue to be in order to rid the crops of the numerous bird species.
As I recall in the Wizard of Oz, the scarecrow was very frustrated at the fact he could not scare a crow that sat upon his shoulder. He strived to do something more to make life a little better. After all, he was in search of a brain, not the quest to scare anything. They bring back many memories as we see them in the fields or simply in someone's yard as decoration.
Scarecrows used to have a vital part in the agricultural world and a definite purpose. Today they are just as content adorning our neighbor's yards to celebrate the season of fall and all the festivities that occur this time of year.
Have a very safe and fun Halloween!