Silent Sentinel of Crop Protection

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1995. All rights reserved.

He stands alone near the fenceline staring out at the horizon. The breeze that rustles through the dried corn stalks stirs his tattered shirttails. He sways slightly, but keeps a firm grip on his rusty pitchfork with a broken tine.

Since spring planting he's been out there, a silent sentinel of agricultural defense. As the fields were plowed and fertilized, he was watching. He witnessed the first emergence of seedlings and saw the workers moving handlines during the early summer drought.

Scarecrows @ Flamingo Garden's BOO-tanical Garden

But now the crop is in and harvest done, and he's still standing there, waiting. I find him unnerving.

Scarecrows are meant to frighten. Their function is to scare off birds and deer and other critters that have designs upon a crop. They come in many guises.

Some scarecrows are nothing more than audio recordings. The sound of swarming deerflies broadcast through loudspeakers has been used to frighten deer away from tree farms.

In Ohio, farmers have been known to string up mylar ribbons at 10-foot intervals across their fields. On windy days the ribbons produce a low roaring sound and flash reflected sunlight, scaring off birds and other sensitive creatures.

An empty jug sitting on the ground supposedly has a similar effect on rabbits. When wind blows over the mouth of the jug it creates noises or vibrations that are (pardon the pun) hare-raising.

Gene Logsdon, the author-farmer, heard about a neighbor who put a kitten in a bird cage and hung it in his orchard. The kitten wailed and the birds stayed away, but his wife made him take it down.

Some farmers shoot crows and hang up their carcasses to scare off other birds. Others fire off carbide cannons to keep migrating geese out of their cornfields.

The traditional scarecrow mannequin stuffed with straw was meant to resemble the farmer who has fired his gun. Birds remember that hairless face and those tattered clothes. Deer shy away from the quiet hunter.

I keep my distance too, but for other reasons.

It is late October and the fields are bare, but my neighbor's scarecrow still stands there, watching and waiting as the light grows dim and the Hunter's Moon rises.

A scarecrow wearing clothes should have a face, don't you think? This one has a shiny aluminum pie plate for a head. It reflects the sun by day, but at night it captures the imagination. I've seen someone there, I'm sure of it.

Shouldn't he be indoors catching up on his sleep? What's he trying to scare off now?

Wouldn't this be a good time to mend and clean those clothes? What is that dark stain on his sleeves?

Coming in late from chores, I move swiftly past the fenceline where he stands, trying not to glance his way. But then there's a rustling, some movement and a far-off cry.

Hey, what was that?

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