Whether you have a hundred acre farm or a rooftop garden in New York City, pests are an ever present concern. While bugs and fungi can be kept at bay with sprays traps, birds will always present a unique problem. They’ll eat the produce that you’ve worked so hard to grow and will even destroy your seeds and seedlings before they have the chance to mature. Luckily for gardeners and farmers all over the world, there is the scarecrow!
Scarecrows have been around for generations and can be found in fields the world over. Different styles have been designed in different cultures and modern technology has allowed the development of rather unique methods for keeping birds from destroying crops and gardens.
The Traditional Mannequin Scarecrow:
This type of scarecrow is among the most traditional. It can be found worldwide with many different variations. The mannequin scarecrow is also one of the easiest to make. In addition to its use in the garden, come Halloween and Thanksgiving, it can be used as a traditional yard decoration.
To build a traditional mannequin scarecrow you’ll first need to construct a frame. The frame is very simple and is composed only of a vertical support with a single crossbeam. A broom works great for the support and a dowel will do well for the cross beam. You’ll need to secure the crossbeam to the vertical support. Nails or screws will work, however lashing the two pieces together with hemp rope or duct tape is also very effective.
Once you have your frame built you’ll need to dress your scarecrow. An old button-up shirt and pair of sweatpants will work great. You should be sure to use clothing that you don’t intend to wear anymore as your scarecrow will be placed outdoors and exposed to the elements. Brighter colors work better than earth-tones. You’ll want the crows to be able to see your mannequin!
Place the ends of the crossbeam through the sleeves of the shirt. Cut a small hole in the seat of the pants and slide the vertical support through it. Next, tie off the sleeves and pant legs with twine or string. Now you’ll need to stuff your scarecrow. Stuffing can be anything from fallen leaves, to newspapers, to grass clippings. If you intend to use your scarecrow for decoration, clean hay is a great option. Once the pants and shirt have been stuffed, secure the waist of the pants to the hem of the shirt with safety pins. Now you have created the body of your scarecrow and can move on to the head.
To create your scarecrow’s head take a burlap or plastic bag and slide it over the top of the vertical support. Stuff it with the same material that you filled the body with and close it off with twine or string in the area where the scarecrow’s neck should be. You can now decorate the face however you’d like or you can leave it blank. If you intend on using the scarecrow to actually scare crows, it’s a good idea to add eyes. They will make the illusion more believable to the birds. Throw on a hat and your scarecrow is good to go!
When placing your mannequin scarecrow, simply push the bottom of the support frame into the ground. Be sure to put it in a visible part of your garden or field. It will do your crops no good if the crows don’t see it! If you live in a windy area you may want to secure your creation with stakes and twine to keep it from blowing over.
Another method for keeping crows out of your crops is to frighten them with bright lights. Pie pans hung on strings have been used for decades and the modern version is to hang CD’s around the garden. Reflective tapes and ribbons also work well.
The basic idea behind this type of scarecrow is that as the reflective materials turn in the breeze they reflect sunlight. This will either frighten the birds away or unsettle them by continuously blinding them and prevent them from effectively watching for predators. This method is a great way to keep crows from your crops during the day; however it has a limited capacity during the night or during periods of overcast sky.
If you want to double the effect of your mannequin scarecrow you can hang reflective materials from the hands and allow them to blow in the wind. In addition to the bright reflections this creates, it will cause the illusion of movement of your mannequin and make it seem more lifelike.
Many farmers and gardeners have found noisemakers to be effective in frightening pest birds. An inexpensive method is to produce a wind powered noisemaker. To do this, simply take a large soup or coffee can and punch a hole through the bottom. Next take a string two feet long and secure a nail about 12 to 15 inches from the top. Then tie a piece of tin or waxed cardboard to the bottom end of the string. Feed the top end of the string through the body of the can and through the hole punched in the bottom. A couple of knots will keep the can from sliding up and down the string.
Your noisemaker should look something like this:
Now you can hang the noisemaker from a tree limb or attach it to the arm of your mannequin scarecrow. When the wind blows against the flat board at the bottom it will cause the nail to swing against the side of the can making a noise. In stiff winds this will make quite a racket. This type of scarecrow will work great in areas with windy climates but may fall short during times of still weather.
If your goal is to scare crows as opposed to creating a yard decoration your best bet might be to combine the three scarecrow types. Build a mannequin scarecrow and then hang reflectors and noisemakers from its arms and legs. Just remember that crows are highly intelligent so be sure to move your scarecrow or alter it slightly every couple of weeks to keep the birds from growing accustomed to its presence.