Fisher Cat Facts
Also known as: fisher
The second-largest member of the weasel family is the fisher cat, a forest-dwelling creature found in the boreal forest in Canada and Northern United States.
The name fisher cat, however, is inappropriately named, since it is neither a feline, nor a hunter of fish. Typically a dark-brown coat, fishers average 32 to 40 inches in length, have short, stout legs with retractable claws used for climbing, and a 12- to 16-inch tail. Male fishers are much larger than the females.
The clearing of forests and unregulated trapping practices caused most of the fishers to be extirpated during the 1700s and 1800s by loggers and farmers. However, the fisher population began to rebound during the late 1800s as farms were abandoned and land began to become reforested.
Logging companies later began reintroducing fishers into the Northern U.S. during the 1950s, in an effort to reduce the porcupine population being used to reestablish trees in logged areas. Today, fisher cats can be found only in North America from the Sierra Nevada to the Appalachian mountain ranges including Southern Canada, New England, and New York, as well as scattered across Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Virginia.
Mating occurs in the late winter and early spring, usually between the months of March and May. Litters usually consist of three offspring that are born after about one year. Fishers can live up to 10 years in the wild. As predators, these animals will prey on a variety of mammals like mice, porcupines, squirrels, rabbits, birds, and shrews. If these food choices aren’t available, it is not uncommon for the fisher to settle on fruits and berries. These critters are unique in that that they are one of two predators that are great climbers and stretchers when it comes to looking for food, the other being the American marten.
Fisher Cat Nuisances & Damage
In recent years, fishers appear to have grown more accustomed to humans and have decided to make pit stops in suburban areas. They have been known to attack and bite humans or domestic animals that disturb or surprise them. However, these animals are generally shy and prefer to avoid human contact. Typically, if huimans just leave them alone, they’ll leave humans alone.
You might see fisher cats scampering up the trunks of trees or zipping along across the the ground. Hollow trees, stumps, holes in the ground, brush piles, and other organic matter may be temporary housing for these creatures as they are out looking for food during the day and at night. Garbage may be spilt all over as the result of fishers searching for meals.
Fisher Cat Identification
A fisher cat is a medium-sized mammals that can measure between 25 and 50 inches with brown coats and gold or silver hair on their head and shoulders. With long, slender bodies, their legs and tails are both black, and they may have cream-colored patch on their chests. The color of their fur will change from season to season. Fishers have five toes on each of their four feet, and their claws can be retracted, similarly to a cat’s.
Sexually dimorphic in size, the males are larger than the females. Males range in size from 35 to 47 inches in length and weigh 8 to13 pounds, while females are approximately 30 to 37 inches in length and weigh about 4 to 6 pounds. Fisher cats have five toes on each foot with retractable claws, as well as a tail about 12 to 16 inches in length. Fishers' fur ranges from deep-brown to black, and can be hoary-gold or silver in the face due to tricolored guard hairs. Their fur tends to be darker in the winter, and becomes lighter during the summer. Known for the high-pitched shriek that sounds like a woman screaming, many believe that this noise is mistaken for a fox. Those who back the claim that fisher cats do indeed make these screams, say the fishers use this as a mating call, as well as a predatory warning.
Fisher Cat Habitat
Fishers prefer forest regions, both coniferous and deciduous. These environments provide them with the ability to climb from tree to tree in search of food, as well as provide them shelter. Often, they will take up residence in hollowed out trees like spruces, firs, and white cedars. This is because their favored prey are usually found in these same habitats.
Despite being able to climb trees, fishers spend most of their time on the forest floor, and prefer thick forests to other habitats. Found in both softwood and hardwood forests, fishers frequent areas of forests with overhead cover, and tend to avoid those areas without cover. Fishers enjoy a forest floor with fallen trees and woody debris. Heavily logged areas are typically avoided by female fishers, since they need large trees for denning.
Fisher Cat Infestation
Secretive and elusive creatures, fisher cats keep their distance from humans and typically do not den under buildings. However, with fisher sightings steadily increasing since 2000, concerns among homeowners are becoming more common.
There are several contributing factors that could be the reason for the increase in sightings:
Reforestation of abandoned farmland
Increased flexibility of habitat (previously assumed to only survive in larger, contiguous forest)
Increased regulation of trapping (Wildlife Protection Act of 1996)
Outlawed the use of leg hold and body gripping traps
Fishers are nasty animals on their own, with long-sharp claws and teeth. They’re also potential carriers of ticks, fleas, rabies, and mange, contact with fishers should be avoided at all times. They can also be extremely aggressive animals when they feel threatened.
Although they avoid human contact, fishers have been known to prey on house cats and small dogs. Be sure to keep an eye on your pets while roaming the yard, and try to keep small pets indoors during night time, as this is when fishers are most active.
Frequently Asked Questions About Fisher Cats
Do fisher cats bite people?
Fisher cats don't typically bite humans, but if threatened, they may resort to biting.
If ever bitten or scratched by a fisher, clean the area with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately, especially if you suspect you’ve been exposed to the rabies virus. Now quite simple, rabies treatment no longer requires the series of shots to the stomach.
Rabies, a virus found in saliva and transmitted through a bite or scratch, can be transmitted via fisher cats as well. Rabies is typically categorized into two forms: “furious” rabies, which can be identified by an animal acting aggressive, disoriented, and will snap or bite at almost anything; and “dumb” rabies, a harder-to-identify form of the virus that makes the animal act unnaturally friendly.
Contact your local police department and Department of Public Health if you encounter an animal you suspect has either form of rabies.
How do I keep fisher cats away?
If you’d prefer to not have these creatures skulking around your yard, getting rid of decaying organic material like logs, stumps, and brush will help deter them from nesting. Trimming bushes and trees, along with mowing the lawn will reduce their hiding places.
How do I prevent fishers from coming on my property?
Be sure to take the necessary precautions in order to protect your animals and pets.
Keep pets indoors
Fence in chickens, use a secured coop or barn
Covering trash cans
Large dogs keep fishers away
Bright lights and loud noise help deter fishers
Commercial odor repellent that uses urine of predators
What are the benefits of professional pest control for fisher cats?
A pest management professional has the education, equipment and skills necessary to effectively address a fisher cat problem. Finding and treating the fishers can be challenging, especially if they are loose in your yard. A pest management professional provides their expertise to identify the pest problem and determine the best possible solution to resolve the fisher cat nuisance.