Several years ago I saw a sleek looking animal about three feet long, zigzagging quickly through some tall grass in Northeastern CT. At first I thought it was a woodchuck, but it had shiny black fur and a long bushy tail. I realized it must have been a fisher (Martes pennanti). These creatures are sometimes referred to as “fisher cats” even though they seldom eat fish, and are not cats – they are actually weasels.
Fishers had pretty much disappeared from Connecticut by the early 1900’s as a result of over trapping for their valuable pelts, and clear cutting. As the forest has recovered in northeastern CT, so have fishers. The State of CT DEP did help with their reintroduction in western CT back in 1988, and populations are now high enough that DEP actually allowed regulated trapping this year.
Fishers are primarily nocturnal. They are active during daytime, but are quite secretive (sort of like people who screen their phone messages with an answering service).
They are good swimmers and climbers, and may hang out trees cavities, stumps, rock crevices, or ground burrows. In the winter, they make long narrow tunnels in the snow that lead to their snow den.
Like the Looney Tunes cartoon Tasmanian Devil, fishers eat mice, squirrels, voles, shrews, frogs, and especially rabbits. They also eat birds - one video camera caught a fisher preying on owlets in a nestbox. Fisher may also eat carrion, and feed on fruits and berries such as beechnuts and apples.
A fisher is one of the few predators with porcupine on its menu. A fisher repeatedly attacks the porcupine's face until it is worn out. Then the fisher flips the porcupine over and attacks the throat or belly where there are no quills.
The fisher has a chilling scream, sometimes heard during spring mating season. It has been described by one observer as the sound of a “human baby being murdered VERY slowly.”
The CT DEEP has been getting a number of complaints about fishers suspected of killing outdoor cats and other domestic animals. Fishers are ferocious, and may get aggressive when confronted. It is important to recognize that fishers are just trying to find food and protect themselves. To protect your own pets and domestic fowl, restrict access to them, and to garbage and pet foods. Preferably keep cats indoors. If you let cats and small dogs out at night, keep them on a leash, or stay close by to protect them from fishers and other night stalkers like raccoons and coyotes.
Fisher Fact Sheet, CT DEP