SCARER.

In the comments to this post, linguist and frequent commenter marie-lucie quoted an OED etymology that mentioned “Mongolian manūl, formerly ‘watchman’, now ‘bird-scarer’” and said “I had never seen or heard ‘bird-scarer’. Wouldn’t “scarecrow” be the idiomatic word?” That seemed like an excellent question, so I checked (what else?) the OED, and found:
scarer
  One who or something which scares; spec. (usu. as bird-scarer) a person or thing (other than a traditional scarecrow) for frightening birds away from crops.
  1740 RICHARDSON Pamela I. Introd. 30 Till the Ghost of Lady Davers, drawing open the Curtains, scares the Scarer. 1820 Examiner No. 621. 154/1 Like a scarer away of birds from the grapes. 1865 DICKENS Mut. Fr. I. v, To a old bird like myself these are scarers. 1879 ESCOTT England I. 299 When he commences life as an agricultural labourer, it will probably be, not in the capacity of scarer—bird-scaring is now generally done by inanimate scarecrows. 1930 H. H. THOMAS Pop. Gardening Ann. 24 A good cheap scarer on the market is obtainable in the shape of a black cat’s head. 1953 R. GODDEN Kingfishers catch Fire xiii. 157 The bird-scarers had come to watch over the cherry crop. 1961 Times 7 Jan. 8/6, I could not make out whether the contents were a bird-scarer or a child’s rattle. 1971 Country Life 16 Sept. 682/1 We were much troubled by an explosive bird-scarer in a field of barley adjoining our house.
So a “bird-scarer” is anything that scares birds other than a scarecrow. (I hope that the “black cat’s head” in the 1930 quote was artificial!) I can see how that could be a useful word; are you familiar with it?

Comments

  1. Reminds me of the Italian spaventapasseri, lit. “sparrow-scarer”, or word-for-word “scare-sparrows”. But that refers to the scarecrow in the most general sense, with the canonical type being the mannequin we know.

  2. I seem to remember it in the Tony Robinson’s Worst Jobs in History series, about children too young for other work, set to scare birds in the field, and they were called bird-scarers.

  3. marie-lucie says:

    Thank you for the research, LH! So a bird-scarer is not an object like the scarecrow, as I thought, but usually a living person, very similar to a watchman but less professional.
    The French word for a scarecrow is un épouvantail, from épouvante ‘terror’ or the verb épouvanter ‘to fill with terror’. Those words are related to the spaventa in the Italian word and espanta in the Spanish equivalent espantapajaro, literally ‘scares-bird’ (stress on the a of the pa syllable).

  4. I lived out in the wilds of mid-Wales for a decade or so, and out in the fields, at certain times of year, there was a bird-scarer which slowly leaked gas into a chamber, which was then ignited, every half an hour or so. The explosion must have been audible for at least a couple of miles, in the dead of night. I don’t know if it scared the birds, but it infuriated the neighbours. I think I have a recording of it somewhere, which I could perhaps dig out, but you know, a bang is pretty much a bang, and that’s your lot.
    I see that the spell checker on this text box is unhappy with “scarer” (but then it is also unhappy with “neighbours”…)

  5. As Pilgrim said. I lived near Plymouth in the UK between around 1969 and 1983, just on the edge of rural Devon, and a bird-scarer was a device that made very loud, very regular noises. I think there were some that worked their way through a store of blank shotgun cartridges, and others that used other methods, but both sorts were put in fields and used to, er, scare birds.
    But they weren’t scarecrows.

  6. marie-lucie says:

    Sorry, I did not pay enough attention to the latest usage of “bird-scarer”: a noise-making machine which replaced a human bird-scarer.

  7. Those devices were used in Minnesota too, and used acetylene gas, which was produced by dripping water on calcium carbide.
    In traditional China there was a very low-paid job called “crop-watcher” (in translation), which consisted of watching crops and protecting them from pests such as crows.

  8. Those devices were used in Minnesota too, and used acetylene gas, which was produced by dripping water on calcium carbide.
    In traditional China there was a very low-paid job called “crop-watcher” (in translation), which consisted of watching crops and protecting them from pests such as crows.

  9. Grapegrowers here use bird-scarers too. They are often hawk shaped kites on long tethers. They also use humans on ATVs with shotguns, too. Some use falconers and karearea. I’ve never seen scarecrows here.

  10. marie-lucie says:

    No scarecrows in Aotearoa: probably because they are not very effective.

  11. Don’t forget fake owls.

  12. I have seen scarecrows, in crop farms in other parts of the country, but you’re right about their lack of effectiveness. Those parts of the country where I have seen them tend to be those places most fond of their ties to Ole Blighted, and I think the scarecrows are put up more for nostalgic value and kids’ amusement than actually scaring off unwanted fauna. If they put them up around keas, they would be eviscerated in minutes, if they lasted that long. So it seems that we have both scarecrows and bird-scarers, but possibly not co-existing.

  13. marie-lucie says:

    the Kea: a beautiful and interesting bird. The description in Wiki forgets to say anything about the size of the bird.
    The problem with scarecrows, fake owls, etc is that they are motionless, so birds quickly figure out that they have nothing to fear from them.

  14. Marie-lucie – they are quite large. I don’t know actual dimensions, but combined with their total lack of fear or caution and aggressive inquisitiveness, they are more than large enough to scare off most unarmed humans.
    According to this site they get up to a kilo, but they seem bigger when they are attacking your car.

  15. marie-lucie says:

    Thank you for the link. It says the kea is 46cm from head to tail, so the wingspan must be more than a metre. That’s quite large for a bird. It is also supposed to be extremely intelligent, “like humans and crows”.
    I have a book called The natural world of the Maori in which the kea is briefly mentioned as “comic and thievish”, while the main bird of prey is the harrier hawk, to which the author devotes a fair amount of space. She also says that there are hardly any legendary traditions about the kea, perhaps simply because they were not recorded. Given what is said in the NZ bird site, I would expect the role of this bird to have been similar to that of the raven in Northern mythologies, also a largish and very intelligent bird.

  16. that there are hardly any legendary traditions about the kea
    That could be at least partly due to their habitat. To this day, 80% of the humans here live in the other island, and even in Te Wai Pounamu the largest human population centres neither are nor were close to the kea populations. That suggests that there was likely very limited interaction between humans and kea, at least prior to large-scale farming and tourism introduced humans to the keas’ habitats. To its credit, the the Department of Conservation’s standard response to complaints about keas’ impact on human property tends to be along the lines of: “the kea were there first, get used to it.”

  17. I do remember bird-scaring banging devices from my youth in the west that is forgotten; but, if they were called bird-scarers, then I had forgotten, and still forget.

  18. I read on a gardening site that cds hanging in trees are an effective method of bird scaring. I like having birds around, though. I’d rather scare gardeners.

  19. Scarer is scarecrow for birds. It reminds of the character scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz.
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  20. Christophe Strobbe says:

    In Thomas Hardy’s novel Jude the Obscure (1895) Jude Fawley uses a “clacker or rattle” to scare away rooks, but the text doesn’t use the word “scarer”.
    However, Charles Dickens uses the term in Our Mutual Friend (1864–65): “Wegg takes it easy, but upon- my-soul to a old bird like myself these are scarers” (emphasis added).

  21. Victor Latrine says:

    The Museum of Mankind in London had a water-powered bird scarer using a bamboo tube on a pivot, which filled slowly with water. When full, it would tip over, emptying itself and striking another piece of bamboo with a “pock” sound. It would then swing back to be filled again.
    There were no birds in the Museum of Mankind, so I think we can assume it was highly effective.

  22. j. del col says:

    See Mark Cocker and Richard Mabey’s–Birds Britannica– about bird-scaring. It reproduces a dramatic painting of a young bird-scarer. Unfortunately, my copy of the book is at home, so I can’t give the name of the artist at the moment.

  23. j. del col says:

    The automated bird-scaring cannon used at airports and other places uses calcium carbide and water to produce acetylene gas. The gas is then detonated by a spark.

  24. j. del col says:

    There is also a propane fueled bird-scaring gun. It seems to be more commonly used these days than the acetylene fueled version.

  25. marie-lucie says:

    AJP: if you are not growing seed crops or fruit trees, you don’t need to scare birds. But recycling old CD’s by hanging them in trees (where their shininess will produce flashes of light) seems like a nice idea if you need to keep birds away from specific trees.
    VL: a water-powered bird scarer using a bamboo tube on a pivot, which filled slowly with water. When full, it would tip over, emptying itself and striking another piece of bamboo with a “pock” sound.
    I saw one of these bamboo devices in a documentary about Japan, used in a garden. I thought it had to do with irrigation, or just with an interesting use of water. Nothing was said about the sound of it scaring birds. Perhaps the second bamboo piece was an addition used in some places in order to amplify the more discreet sound made by the device on its own.

  26. marie-lucie says:

    VL: In Thomas Hardy’s novel Jude the Obscure (1895) Jude Fawley uses a “clacker or rattle” to scare away rooks, but the text doesn’t use the word “scarer”.
    That must be because Jude himself is the bird-scarer, not the device he uses. In the quotes in LH’s post above, “scarer” applies to a person up to a certain date, after which the word refers to a noisemaking device or machine.

  27. To its credit, the the Department of Conservation’s standard response to complaints about keas’ impact on human property tends to be along the lines of: “the kea were there first, get used to it.”
    I like this very much.
    I’m glad I decided to post this; I had no idea the thread would turn out to be so interesting! The OED definition of kea is somewhat alarming:

    The Green Alpine Parrot of New Zealand (Nestor notabilis), which destroys sheep in order to prey upon their kidney-fat.
      It was originally frugivorous, but had become before 1881 a pest to sheep-farmers in the Southern Alps of N.Z.

  28. j. del col says:

    I have seen a cat’s head shaped bird scarer. The one I saw was made of thin sheet metal and had prismatic reflectors for eyes. It was considerably larger than a domestic cat’s head.
    I have relatives in Florida whose neighbor had problems with herons perching on his roof and leaving vile, fishy-smelling droppings. He put a decoy owl on his roof to try and frighten the herons. They’d just perch next to it and look down at it as if wondering why it had so little to say.

  29. but had become before 1881 a pest to sheep-farmers in the Southern Alps of N.Z.
    This has now been pretty comprehensively established as an exaggeration and distortion of what was happening. Kea are known to eat carrion, and possibly animals that are already dying, but from that, farmers created a scare in a manner similar to what I understand was done with the coyote/wolf bogeyman of ranchers in the States.

  30. M-L: AJP: if you are not growing seed crops or fruit trees, you don’t need to scare birds. But recycling old CD’s by hanging them in trees (where their shininess will produce flashes of light) seems like a nice idea if you need to keep birds away from specific trees.
    Not seed crops, but fruit and berries — which the birds love. There’s enough for all of us, except the strawberries, so maybe I’ll try this again. Netting doesn’t work.

  31. We like the sheep-killing story better, Stuart.

  32. We like the sheep-killing story better, Stuart.

  33. marie-lucie says:

    JE, you mean YOU like that story better.

  34. I have to confess that I like it better, too.

  35. They’re always running scare stories in the media here about wolves eating lambs and children and that sort of thing, and then they go out and shoot them (the children).

  36. maybe I’ll try this again
    One year we tried small aluminum pans suspended from a line. Didn’t work. There wasn’t any name I ever heard for the device. Probagby just as well since it didn’t do anything that could be named. The grackles just walked up to all those shiny reflecting things and as soon as a strawberry had one small area turn ripe, there would be a beak mark in it.
    I think you have to actually cover the crop somehow.
    We never had any problems with our strawberries in the city, but we had cats. Also there was some kind of self-sowing blackberry thorn bush and a mulberry tree in the back fenceline, so maybe that was safer fruit.

  37. I never had trouble with strawberries in the city.

  38. In Oregon blackberry thorns are a familiar and hated pest. They could take over a whole city block if you let them. They’re great habitat for opossums and the like, but most people don’t want opossums either.
    Biblically, wolves are one thing, but if a bear eats your kid you just have to conclude that he insulted a prophet of God.

  39. In Oregon blackberry thorns are a familiar and hated pest. They could take over a whole city block if you let them. They’re great habitat for opossums and the like, but most people don’t want opossums either.
    Biblically, wolves are one thing, but if a bear eats your kid you just have to conclude that he insulted a prophet of God.

  40. The Japanese bamboo devices are also called “deer-scarers”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shishi_odoshi
    In recent years I’ve occasionally seen them in British gardens & on sale in garden centres. (Probably more as an interesting water feature than a practical means of scaring birds or deer, though I suppose there’s no reason they can’t serve both functions simultaneously.)

  41. About 30 years ago you could buy crow-scarers in the UK consisting of very loud, short-fused bangers inserted at regular intervals in a hemp rope. I’m not sure if they are still available. Cheers.

  42. marie-lucie says:

    JE: blackberry thorns
    It this another way of saying blackberry bushes? I suppose you mean the great tangled fortresses of thorny vines, impossible to penetrate unless you are a bird or very small animal. I have never heard them called just thorns, but bushes does not seem quite the right description.

  43. j. del col says:

    Blackberries have canes, not vines. Also, as do many members of the Rose famiily, they have prickles, not true thorns. Prickles readily detach from their stems; thorns do not.
    Hawthorns have true thorns, and are also members of the rose family. I frequently go birding at a place that has fearsome thickets composed of blackberries, raspberries, multiflora rose -and- hawthorns. The sparrows and warblers thrive among them.
    BTW, The artist who painted the 1896 picture of the bird-scarer that appears in –Birds Britannica– was George Clausen.

  44. j. del col says:

    The title of Clausen’s painting is –Bird scaring, March– It can be seen online.

  45. marie-lucie says:

    J. del col: thank you for the clarification. I thought that “vines” was perhaps not the right word, but could not think of another one. I did not know that there was a distinct word for the type of “thorns” found on rose, etc stems (“there is no rose without thorns”).

  46. M-L’s phrase “blackberry thorns” was actually new to me, but I picked it up because it captures the blackberry experience so well.

  47. M-L’s phrase “blackberry thorns” was actually new to me, but I picked it up because it captures the blackberry experience so well.

  48. M-L’s phrase “blackberry thorns” was actually new to me, but I picked it up because it captures the blackberry experience so well.
    In Oregon the Br’er Rabbit folk tale would be retold with a blackberry patch instead of a briar patch.

  49. M-L’s phrase “blackberry thorns” was actually new to me, but I picked it up because it captures the blackberry experience so well.
    In Oregon the Br’er Rabbit folk tale would be retold with a blackberry patch instead of a briar patch.

  50. The Wiki “Br’er Rabbit” entry is worth a look. Apparently the stories were published in Cherokee before they were published in English, and Joel Chandler Harris was not the first to publish them in English. There’s also a Creole French version. The Wiki piece alleges a merger of Akan and Cherokee folk tales.

  51. The Wiki “Br’er Rabbit” entry is worth a look. Apparently the stories were published in Cherokee before they were published in English, and Joel Chandler Harris was not the first to publish them in English. There’s also a Creole French version. The Wiki piece alleges a merger of Akan and Cherokee folk tales.

  52. j. del col says:

    M-L:
    The prickle/thorn distinction is important only to botanists and pedantic rosarians. I call them thorns.

  53. marie-lucie says:

    The prickle/thorn distinction important only to botanists and pedantic rosarians
    Thanks, I suspected as much.

  54. Christophe Strobbe says:

    That must be because Jude himself is the bird-scarer, not the device he uses. In the quotes in LH’s post above, “scarer” applies to a person up to a certain date, after which the word refers to a noisemaking device or machine.
    I understand the definition of “bird-scarer”, thank you. I see no reason why the use of the term “clapper” would prevent the author (through one of the novel’s characters) from referring to Jude as a bird-scarer. (See the quote from Rumer Godden’s book Kingfishers catch fire in the OED.)

  55. j. del col says:

    Hardy’s audience didn’t need to be told Jude was the bird scarer. They’d have understood the context and the clapper.

  56. marie-lucie says:

    Just as, if you are writing about a man who takes his car to go somewhere, you don’t need to mention that he is the driver.

  57. Christophe Strobbe says:

    Surely, it would possible for Hardy to write from Jude’s point of view that he uses a clapper, and to let, for example, Jude’s aunt talk about Jude’s “job” as a “bird-scarer”?

  58. j. del col says:

    Perhaps in his next incarnation Hardy will be sure to be explicit about his characters’ occupations.

  59. I’d say he owes it to us.

  60. I’d say he owes it to us.

  61. j. del col says:

    As does that Shakespeare fellow. I mean, really, what’s with all those ‘prithees,’ and that nonsense about ‘gentlemen of the shade, and ‘lipsbury pinfold?’

  62. Yes, right away I remembered Jude the Obscure. The poignant passage is right in the first chapter; Jude Hawley is the bird-scarer who is, incidentally, fired from his position because he has too much compassion for the birds—he throws away the clacker and enjoins the birds to “make a good meal!” There are other references, similarly, I believe, in Anthony Trollope, and other fiction of that—my favorite—literary era.

  63. There was, within the last couple of days, a short New York Times article — oh, it’s an entry on the City Room blog — about Con Ed’s difficulties keeping parakeets from nesting in some rooftop installation in Queens. They tried installing a battery-powered fake owl that moves its head from time to time, but the parakeets weren’t fooled for long. Con Ed workers draped the owl, known as Hootie, in an orange cape on the theory that parakeets dislike orange. It’s really a problem — the nests short-circuit the devices, and they cost $20,000 to replace.

  64. Ridiculous. I can get them parakeets a lot cheaper than that.

  65. Ridiculous. I can get them parakeets a lot cheaper than that.
    Since you’re playing with the devil’s volleyball, AJP, I should point out that the currency wasn’t specified. Could you, for example, really get a parakeet for a lot less than $20K Zimbabwean? I suspect you’d have trouble buying a parakeet feather for that much.

  66. If Con Ed wanted Zimbabwean parakeets they should have said. They won’t be fooled by an owl running on batteries. Kind of ironic Con Ed can’t supply it with electricity — no wonder the US economy’s in trouble.

  67. We have had nuisance parrots too, now for two summers in a row. They’re green and make huge sack-like nests in utility poles. One day last summer they just all disappeared, nest and all.

  68. Nobody “just disappears” in Chicago, Nij.

  69. That’s just it, Kron. Detroit may have it’s Jimmy Hoffa, but here, when someone disappears in, say, Cal City over by the Pullman neighborhood, they always turn up later, or what’s left of them at least, usually two or three blocks from where I live. I don’t think those birds are going to turn up anywhere.

  70. David Marjanović says:

    The story about the kea and the sheep is true. They really do hack at living sheep to get at the fat above the kidneys. I’ve seen footage of it (in what probably was a translation of a BBC production); the documentation went on to state that they probably did it to moa when there still were some.
    The distinctions between prickles (Stacheln) and thorns (Dornen) also exists in German; I always thought it must have been invented by a botanist in the 18th century or something (because, like in English, there’s no such distinction in popular usage; roses are colloquially and proverbially said to have thorns). Botanically, thorns are modified twigs (with wood inside), while prickles are outgrowths of the bark.

    I see that the spell checker on this text box is unhappy with “scarer” (but then it is also unhappy with “neighbours”…)

    Erm…
    The spellchecker is in your browser, not on this site. I have no spellchecker in my browser and don’t see any here.

  71. The story about the kea and the sheep is true. They really do hack at living sheep to get at the fat above the kidneys.
    Some do, but even NZ Federated Farmers describes the problem as rare, involving “rogue” birds. A Federated Farmers’ report on the problem notes a reduction in the frequency of recorded attacks since the birds were fully protected. The same report also warns farmers against dealing with the “rogue birds” themselves precisely because they are protected and killing them is expensive.

  72. “Stacheln” may have an English cognate in “sticker”, as in “stickerbush”, which is the colloquial here (Minnesota) for “thornbush”.

  73. “Stacheln” may have an English cognate in “sticker”, as in “stickerbush”, which is the colloquial here (Minnesota) for “thornbush”.

  74. marie-lucie says:

    JE, that certainly sounds plausible in linguistic terms.

  75. Stikkelsbær is the Norwegian for gooseberry, whose bush is very prickly.

  76. marie-lucie says:

    “stickerbush”, which is the colloquial here (Minnesota) for “thornbush”.
    Since this word is used in Minnesota, where I believe many people are of Scandinavian origin, “stickerbush” may be an adaptation from a Scandinavian language.

  77. Not merely Scandinavian; Norwegian! That’s what I meant.

  78. David Marjanović says:

    I wonder if German stecken is cognate with “stake”, even though “stick” (in the meanings other than “glue”) is usually a better translation. But then, “a stick” is usually ein Stock and sometimes ein Stecken. ~:-| Phonologically, I suppose we should be looking at “staggering” instead, but the meaning of that word is too far away, isn’t it?

  79. David Marjanović says:

    MMcM wrote in the previous thread, which is closed:

    Don’t you think the Captorhinus / Ectocynodon / Pariotichus aguti is just named after the agouti, which is presumably a Guarani name for the rodent?

    It’s of course the most likely option that it’s named after the Brazilian agouti (Dasyprocta leporina), which is actually the cutia, and of which Dasyprocta aguti is a junior synonym. But then, a junior synonym of Cuniculus (the pacas) was Agouti (so that the lowland paca is called Agouti paca in probably most of the literature).
    I was wrong about there being any confusion about the pacarana, except in my head.
    BTW, Pariotichus is a completely different animal (a gymnarthrid “microsaur”, in other words, probably a true amphibian; Captorhinus is a sauropsid amniote, closely related to the diapsids such as lizards/snakes, tuatara, crocodiles and birds), and I didn’t even know Ectocynodon… it’s not clear to me what this page actually tries to say, because it doesn’t mention whether Ectocynodon was erected for that species, though that’s implied by the comment about it being a nomen oblitum. ~:-| I’m supposed to contribute to that site, I’ll ask sometime.
    Cool that Case 1911 is now online!

  80. I don’t know why I feel the need to defend these amazing birds from a quasi-spam poster like Rotator Cuff Boy, but here is an interesting article on how human artifice and kea curiosity make a deadly mix

  81. A late addition:
    I checked the official Chinese name for the Kea and found that it’s 啄羊鹦鹉 zhuóyáng yīngwǔ, or ‘sheep-pecking parrot’. (啄 is the character used in ‘woodpecker’).

  82. David Marjanović says:

    I happened to find the description of Ectocynodon ordinatus Cope 1878 two days ago. That species is the type species of Ectocynodon. So Cope found some pathetic fragment, called it Ectocynodon aguti, and only later found out what a drastically different animal it was. Typical.

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