Vintage classic pie birds c. 1960Pie birds (or funnels) are small figurines, generally in the shape of a bird, but not always (see below), inserted into the middle of a double crust pie to let out steam and prevent spillage. Some models also assist in supporting the pie crust so it does not collapse in the middle. According to this story in Country Living, pie "birds"/funnels first appeared in England at the turn of the 19th century, in various forms. They didn't take on the shape of birds, however, until the 1930s in the United States, with the nursery rhyme, "Sing A Song of Sixpence" (4 and 20 blackbirds baked into a pie) serving as inspiration.
I tend to feel that I don't need a pie bird...in some cases you want to keep the steam inside the pie, to help cook your fruit (with an apple pie, for instance). But they are an interesting piece of material culture as well as a collector's item. Apparently they were more necessary in the past, as older ovens did not bake as uniformly as modern versions.
Here are a few of my favorite vintage and modern pie birds, sourced from that Country Living Article and Ebay (where there are many to be found). See a classic modern pie bird (and nothing-in-the-house mascot) at right.
Stuart Bass pie goat with pie (very meta and makes me wonder why his pie doesn't have a pie bird?!)
British pie funnel c. 1909, its divider allows you to bake two different flavors in one pie
Pie fruits, made in Taiwan c. 1960
By Camark Pottery Company (missing 3 from a 10 piece set) c. 1940s--to match your Fiestaware
Would love to see some of our readers' pie birds, if anyone has a collection...