Washington's pigeon population, or at least part of it, has been going bellyup from drugs administered under the aegis of the federal government.
The birds have been keeling over by the dozen around the Federal Triangle. Last Sunday when Kenneth Moore arrived for guard duty at the Smithsonian Museum of History and Technology he saw dead pigeons "all over the place "
"I thought it was an epidemic," he said.
A spokesman for a pest control company hired to de-pigeon federal buildings acknowledges he's been drugging pigeons. But he said the drug is not supposed to kill them, just make them neurotic.
"It's supposed to scare the heck out of them so they fly up 50 to 60 feet and warn others not to roost," said Robert Dixon, owner of Dixon's Pest Control on Georgia Avenue.
However, he admitted, "in some cases birds do drop dead."
Just how many birds have departed from life or property since Dixon's program started last week could not be determined.
But last Saturday, under contract with the General Services Administration, he began scattering kernels of corn laced with a chemical called Avitrol on rooftops of the U.S. Customs Service, the Interdepartmental Auditorium, and the Interstate Commerce Commission.
"If a bird ingests only one kernel, he'll probably live," said Kenneth Green, vice president of the Avitrol Corp. which makes the bird repellent out in Tulsa, Okla.
About 3 percent of the pigeons who sample Avitrol, however, usually overeat.
The rest have their minds expanded by the product's activechemical ingredient, aminopyridine, which, Green said, attacks the central nervous system.
It causes a reaction similar to a painless epileptic seizure in humans, he said.
Both Dixon and Green said Avitrol is intended to repeal pigeons, not kill them. But Dixon said his company had dealt the birds 30-to-1 corn-to-Avitrol mixture instead of the 29-to-1 ratio the Avitrol company recommends.
The number of pigeons in the Washington area - both pre and post-Avitrol - is almost impossible to determine, according to parks and wildlife officials.
"It's like asking how many ants there are," said Phil Million of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Whatever the number, however, they are not universally loved.
In addition to dripping and dropping on public buildings, they carry lice and disease and "in great quantities they are considered a (health) hazard" said GSA spokesman Robert Fisher.
New York Mayor John Lindsay used to refer to pigeons as "rats with feathers."
Government buildings are bird-proofed on an "as-needed basis", Fisher said, and on the three buildings in question the birds had "built up to a major problem."
Bird-proofer Dixon says his pigeon-cide is just about over. The same can't be said for all pigeon problems, however.
Four peregrine falcons raised on the roof of the Department of the Interior this summer are just about self-sufficient by now, according to Mark Fuller, a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist.
And while Fuller termed it "extremely unlikely" the falcons knocked down any pigeons found on the Mall, pigeon is what a peregrine eats for dinner.