|Two Eurasian Pies (Pica pica) outside The Prado, Madrid|
When I was researching my last amateur etymology piece (
The word pie in the English language was first used to refer to the bird, starting around the mid-13th century. It's believed that it was around a century later that pie, the delicious pastry which was originally filled with a variety of mixed or minced meats, took its name from the way Magpies are known for collecting random objects to decorate their nests. Our third usage of pie arose about two hundred years later and appears to have been used mainly in the old printing days; after a printing job, the printer’s blocks would be all mixed up or pied before being sorted into their proper boxes. And when you go back to the Latin word for Magpie, Pica, you are easily brought back to the world of typesetting with pica as a modern typographic unit of measure, although this seems to be coincidental here.
So our beloved apple and pumpkin pies (fruit was introduced as a pie filling around the beginning of the 17th century), not to mention rhubarb and blueberry, may all have been named after a bird. I even read somewhere, thought it's a little far-fetched for me, that the blackbirds from the classic nursery rhyme Sing a Song of Sixpence, are an allusion to the humble magpie.
Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty blackbirds
Baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened
The birds began to sing
Wasn't that a dainty dish
To set before the king?