White House, animal house? Meet the creatures of 1600 Penn

Animals run wild at the White House
Animals run wild at the White House

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    Animals run wild at the White House

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Animals run wild at the White House 01:48

Story highlights

  • Many creatures visit the White House
  • White House staffers are often helpful to the wildlife roaming the grounds

Washington (CNN)The White House. Home to the president of the United States. One of the most recognizable and secure addresses in the entire world.

But while it is difficult for the average human to gain access to the 18-acre grounds, there is an entire world of creatures, big and small, that call the location home.
I've been covering the White House for a very short time. But in that limited experience I've been shocked by the volume of animals that you see scurrying from one end to the other. Birds of countless varieties, bold squirrels that aren't afraid to come right up to you and even the occasional ... fish. (Fish?)
"We saw something dropping from the sky and we went over to see what it was," said Tim Garraty, a veteran CNN photojournalist.
He was preparing for a live report one day during the George W. Bush administration when he saw something falling from the sky. That something turned out to be a fish, scooped out of a nearby waterway by one of the many hawks that patrol the skies above 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
But on this day, that hawk lost his lunch.
"This fish was gasping for air and flopping around on the North Lawn of the White House," Garraty said.
Garraty and a fellow photojournalist took it upon themselves to dispose of the fish.
Falling fish are hard to miss, and admittedly rare. The real vibrancy of the natural habitat that is the White House is seen only when you're patient.
Very patient.
"Sometimes you spend a long time on a stakeout, staring down Executive Drive, you're looking for a dignitary or a politician and as time passes you start to notice things that you wouldn't normally pay attention to," said Khalil Abdallah, a CNN photojournalist.
While on standby to capture a dignitary entering the White House, Abdallah noticed that as the weather improved, animals would slowly stake their ground all around him.
"You slowly start seeing birds building nests, and squirrels coming out of hiding and looking for food," he said.
And if you are able to pay close enough attention to both the dignitaries arriving and the world around you, eventually the opportunity to capture something special can happen.
During the government shutdown of 2014, photojournalist Mark Walz was waiting for President Barack Obama to arrive on the South Lawn in Marine One.
A fox looks around the press area at the White House.
"It was a complete surprise," Walz said. "All of the sudden I see a fox. I zoomed in and started rolling (video) immediately."
The fox, who was spotted several times during that time period, wasn't the only one taking advantage of the government shutdown. With fewer grounds crew on duty, squirrels were able to feast on then-first lady Michelle Obama's garden.
White House staffers are often helpful to the wildlife roaming the grounds.
Not long ago a group of ducks, led by a mama duckling, attempted to enter the North Lawn through a fence. The mama easily hopped over the fence, but her young ducklings did not have as much luck.
A duck and ducklings at the White House
Two armed Secret Service officers noticed the problem and promptly addressed the situation. One by one they plucked the little ducklings up and put them over the fence behind their mother.
The line of ducks then waddled off in a straight line on to the grounds, as if it were the most natural event in the world.