Recently I had a mesmerizing encounter with a Fisher Cat. While walking down a wooded lane we came eye to eye. He was about six feet up in a maple tree. Never having seen one in person, but having heard many negative tales about their viciousness, I was a little taken aback, but only at first. We stood and watched each other for a few moments. He scampered down the tree, ran along the wood’s floor but rather than disappearing, he zoomed up the next maple tree. He did this several times more, deftly scampering up and down the trees, then crossed the road and systematically went up and down the stand of maple trees on the opposite side of the road. In each tree, he poked his nose into nearly every hole and crevice.
This elusive and completely misunderstood creature was fascinating to observe. (I think) his face is wonderfully expressive and rather cute, sort of like a teddy bear face. What do you think? If we were watching a nature film set in an exotic location we would probably think he was extra adorable. He had a a fat bloated tick in his ear and I was wishing I could help get it out. The most amazing thing was watching him climb up and down the trees with great dexterity, agilely leaping from limb to limb. Their paws and claws are huge, again, almost bear-like. Reportedly, they can rotate their hind feet almost 180 degrees, which allows them to scamper down the tree head first, one of few large mammals that have this ability.
As soon as I returned home I looked at the footage and read as much info as I could find. Firstly, they are neither a species of cat, nor do they eat fish. The name Fisher most likely comes from European settlers likening the animal to the European polecat called a ‘fitche.’ I love the Cree name Otchock and think we should make a concerted effort to rename the Fisher. The Algonquin name, the ‘Pekan,’ is better suited as well.
Fisher Cats are members of the weasel family (Mustelid). In winter they have rich, chocolatey brown fur that is, unfortunately, prized by hunters. The female’s fur is finer and the most desirable of all. The male’s fur may have a more grizzled appearance. The male is also larger, varying from three feet to four feet long. The female is generally just shy of three feet long. Based on the fur color and size of this Fisher, I originally believed it to be a male however, at about 1 minute 39 seconds in, I think you can see a nipple.
Two popularly held misconceptions about the Fisher Cat are that they eat cats, and that they make a shrill, shrieking screech. Based on post mortem examinations, there is no evidence that Fishers eat cats. There is however, a great deal of evidence that Coyotes prey upon house pets. And that unearthly scream we sometimes hear at night, that is a Red Fox. Unlike foxes, Fisher cats are not vocal creatures and are only capable of making occasional chuckles and hisses.
Fisher Cats were once extirpated from Massachusetts, largely because of the felling of forests and because of unregulated hunting. Beginning in the late 1800s and into the 1900s, human population trends shifted. Farms were abandoned and much of the former farm land has reverted back to forested land, the Fisher’s habitat. Today, trapping is limited and carefully monitored.
Another reason Fishers have rebounded is thanks to the logging industry , which has reintroduced Fishers at a number of forest locations. Fishers are one of the very few predators that prey upon Porcupines. The issue with Porcupines is that they are voracious eaters of tree saplings.
The Fisher cat is primarily a carnivore. Their diet mostly consists of small mammals including rabbits and squirrels, and also birds. They also eat berries, mushrooms, fruits, and other plants.
I am not suggesting anyone approach a Fisher Cat, nor any wild mammal, for that matter. Rabies is always a consideration. Seeing a Red Fox, which are largely nocturnal, acting strangely during the day would be cause for concern but Fisher Cats are active during both the day and evening.
My ‘lightning in a bottle’ filming moments with a Fisher Cat has shown that they are beautiful stealthy predators, well worth dispelling fallacies and learning more about!