When I first arrived in Ethiopia I was forced, or at least strongly encouraged, to stay inside a single hotel in Addis Ababa for the better part of ten days.  The inner workings of the hotel were interesting enough, but not for long. So I found myself with binoculars in hand, looking out toward the back of the hotel through the window of my room on an upper floor.  It didn’t take long before I spied some birds I’d never seen before.  Here was a speckled mousebird; there was a tecazze sunbird!  And what the heck is that?  That big bird sidestepping its way up a power line in a downpour, looking almost like a crow with a white vest on?

Like many exciting first sightings I’ve had in places far and wide, I was looking at an extremely common bird.  I would end up seeing it everywhere I went in Ethiopia.  It was the Pied Crow.  Months later, up on Lake Tana in Bahir Dar, I had another first: a striking black and white kingfisher.  Where I come from kingfishers are blue.  You guessed it: The Pied Kingfisher.

Strangely, I wasn’t familiar with the term “pied.”  When I heard that word, I imagined a past participle: one who’d had a pie thrown in one’s face had been “pied.”  Then I made a more obvious connection.  Anyone who grew up in the US learned, as a child, about The Pied Piper.  I sure did.  But I never took the time to wonder what that meant.

According to my research (courtesy Online Etymology Dictionary), the term dates to the late 14th century, and … ” as if it were the (past participle) of a verb form of (the) Middle English noun pie … as in “magpie”… in reference to the bird’s black and white plumage. Earliest use is in reference to the pyed freres, an order of friars who wore black and white. Also in pied piper (1845, in Browning’s poem based on the German legend; used allusively from 1942).”

The word “pie” itself has some interesting alternate meanings and roots.  To wit: “magpie,” mid-13c., from O.Fr. pie (13c.), from L. pica “magpie,” related to picus “woodpecker,” Umbrian peica “the magpie,” Skt. pikah “Indian cuckoo,” O.N. spætr, Ger. Specht “woodpecker.”

Who knew?


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