As they round a curve on U.S. 43, a pirate's sneer is one of the first things motorists see. Complete with eye patch and earring, the snaggletooth raider sits by a leisurely, reclining turtle, with its reading glasses on.
Nearby, a bullfighter waves a red cape at a charging bull.
No, they're not real. They're made entirely of hay, wood and other materials by landowner Jim Bird. His creations have delighted passersby from across the nation--and beyond--for years.
"It breaks the trip for people," said Bird, 72, who has been making the sculptures using his spare hay for several years at his Greene County home in rural west Alabama.
Visitors from England, Canada and Ecuador have come by, and a Japanese television crew once stopped and interviewed Bird after passing the sculptures.
Sometimes motorists even stop and help him work on the sculptures. "He's always looking for volunteers," said Lib Bird, 74.
Bird said most of the honkers and wavers are truck drivers. "I guess it breaks the monotony of going up and down the road," he said.
He got the idea for the sculptures one day when his hay baler was turning out misshapen bales. He put them aside, Bird said, thinking he'd find something to do with them. "That's when I made a caterpillar and a spider," he said. When his supply runs short, sometimes he has to sacrifice his art to feed his cattle.
Each of the sculptures costs less than $5 to create. If it's more than that, Bird won't build it. "It makes it more of a challenge," he said.
Besides natural materials like hay and wood, he uses buckets, old tires and discarded containers. One sculpture uses the body of a car propped up on four huge hay tires. He said his favorite is Kilroy, who is peeking above the ground with a nose made of a 55-gallon drum and hands made of firewood.
The Birds call the creations "environmental art." But what the hay is it, really?
"In the strictest sense, we'd have to say he was a folk artist," said Alan Atkinson, assistant professor of art history at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "I think his own title is a perfectly good one. None of those things are made into something else. Someday, they're all going to go back to being oil cans and oil drums and bales of hay."
But, Atkinson said, Bird likely isn't trying to carve a place for himself in the art world. "What are the critics saying? He could probably care less. He's kind of taking found objects and converting them playfully into sculpture."