Birds not scared as the crow flies

I'M not absolutely sure about scarecrows.

Tuesday, 11th September 2007, 2:01 pm

I was reminded of them by the fact that the villagers of Chapel Haddlesey and West Haddlesey, near Selby, held a scarecrow competition last weekend.

Between them they created about 50 scarecrows, among them a Harry Potter, a Dr Who, an old washer woman and her peggy tub, and some ballroom dancers from Strictly Come Dancing.

I wasn't able to go up there and see these ingenious creations, but I have some idea of what they would look like because five or six weeks ago I had a trip into North Yorkshire and came across a village where they had done pretty much the same thing.

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About a dozen houses and cottages in the village had scarecrows of various sizes, shapes and characters, in their front gardens, staring out on to the main road.

The whole thing was probably a lot of fun and according to a notice in the front window of the local post office, it was all in a good cause.

But I'm still not sure about them.

There's something faintly spooky about scarecrows, especially when you get close to them.

They keep very still and well behaved while you are looking at them, but when you have walked past and you are not looking at them, do they turn their heads and stare malevolently at you?

I have seen several films in which this has happened to somebody. I've also seen films in which the scarecrow's head had a camera inside it and the head could be made to swivel by an evil chap in a secret office two miles away as he sat looking at monitor screens.

I think I can remember another film, a rural murder story, in which the scarecrow in the middle of a 40-acre field was in fact the murder victim who had been propped up and dressed in ragged old clothes. One way and another the film industry has given the scarecrow a pretty awful reputation.

There is, however, another reason why I'm not sure about them. I have yet to be convinced that they do what they are supposed to do, ie, scare crows.

Many years ago I was taken by my mother on a bus journey to Retford to visit an aunt of mine who lived there, and somewhere along the way -- I can't remember exacly where -- there was a scarecrow in a field and it had a bird perched on its shoulder.

I'm not sure if it was a crow. It might have been something else. I wasn't very well up on birds at that time. But it was certainly a bird of some kind and by being perched where it was it seemed to me to cast serious doubts on the efficiency of this particular scarecrow, and probably of scarecrows in general.

Since then, my opinions on this matter have been strengthened by experience. I can't help feeling that crows, and lots of other birds, aren't as daft as we think they are.

Take, for example, the pigeons in Fitzalan Square, Sheffield. For years they perched on the head and shoulders of the statue of King Edward VII in the centre of the square. They weren't scared.

They knew it was a stone statue and that the old king wasn't going to reach out and clout them, even though he would have had every justification, considering some of the things they did while they were perched on him.

If a large statue of a very stern-looking monarch doesn't scare them what chance is there that an old washerwoman or a set of dancers from Strictly Come Dancing will?