The Pigeon Massacre That Cast a Pall Over Richard Nixon’s 1973 Inauguration

Richard Nixon's presidency was marred by scandal, including a bird massacre.
Richard Nixon's presidency was marred by scandal, including a bird massacre. / Gene Forte/Getty Images

It is fair to say Richard Nixon has had trouble with inaugurations. Granted, he only had two of them, but each one was marked by a degree of misfortune that stripped some of the dignity that normally accompanies the swearing-in of an incoming president.

In 1969, Nixon was already experiencing backlash as a result of his support of the highly controversial Vietnam War. To signal their displeasure, onlookers hurled horse manure at the guests of incoming vice president Spiro Agnew. Nixon himself was targeted by tomatoes and rocks as he traveled via motorcade to the White House in a kind of real-time public approval rating.

When Nixon was re-elected for a second term, he was still concerned about protesters, but he was also preoccupied with the trees lining Pennsylvania Avenue, which were full of birds. Fearful of being pooped on by these avian spectators, Nixon reportedly ordered the 1973 Inauguration Committee to spray Roost No More, a chemical deterrent, along the parade route. The idea was that the pigeons that normally occupied the area would be repulsed by the solution, avoid the area, and keep Nixon free of being pelted by runny bird droppings. The cost to taxpayers? $13,000.

Roost No More was made with polybutene, a slick and sticky substance that doesn’t dry. Sprayed on trees and other surfaces, it can irritate a bird’s feet. Roost No More’s inventor, Joseph Fink, sprayed it along Pennsylvania Avenue, from the White House to the Capitol, prior to the January 20 inauguration. Fink, a true believer in his product, once helped win approval for his proprietary blend by drinking some of it in front of Chicago health commissioners. In fact, he had used it successfully in previous inaugurations to keep them feces-free.

While Fink was apparently able to stomach Roost No More, the birds did not. While it was believed to be non-toxic, the sticky spray managed to adhere to some of the birds directly, weighing down their feathers and causing them to drop to the ground before expiring. According to reports, the entire celebration was colored somewhat by avian corpses littering the streets. In a sense, Nixon had traded one kind of bird dropping for another. Other than that and the shouting protesters, the inauguration went off without a hitch.