It's not that the pigeons love to roost near the lettuce. It's just that the stately porticoes of old Treasury at 15th and Pennsylvania provide unrivaled shelter from the terrors of the night.
Pigeon droppings, enormously valuable though they may be as garden fertilizer, are highly corrosive to monumental limestone, for as a poet once observed, neither brass nor stone endure if pigeons abound.
Newcomers to Washington, and tourists, and the one worker in 20,000 who remains in the office till supper time, will sometimes walk down 15th Street when a great caterwauling begins at the Treasury, a wailing as of a thousand cows for their lost calves.
Actually, the noise is an amplified recording of pigeon distress cries. It begins about 6:30 and lasts for an hour, and it is supposed to make any prudent pigeon say, "Wherever my castle is to be, it is not there."
The continuous loop tape was installed about two years ago. Now there is a new generation (a capital generation is two years) who hears the noise and fears the Treasury is in distress.
From time to time the heathen of every great city try to kill all the pigeons (which have always been the symbol of the Holy Ghost) but the project usually fails, either through Divine intervention or the ineptitude of exterminators. The Treasury noise, needless to say, does not kill the pigeons but only discourages them from roosting.
The White House at one point installed pigeon-frightening devices in its own trees, so a mass migration proceeded over to the Treasury, which also installed some charged electric wires. One Treasury man said it was often a temptation to get out a .22 and fire down a ledge, getting rid of 100 pigeons at a whack. But this has never been done, he said, and will not be done.
Doug Colley, special assistant to the director of administration for the Treasury, said, "We do have a problem with the refuse," especially when it builds up near the air-intake openings of the building. Reminded of the value of the pigeon droppings for the garden, he said he had all he could use from his horses out in the country. One wonders if he has any to spare; horse manure is especially useful on clay soils and especially for irises and--
"But these wires and recorded cries, have they got your pigeon problem under control?"
"Well," he said, in that brave semi-hopeless tone of Sisyphus, "yes and no."