Tuesday, April 13, 2010

While Fishing For Belted Fisher, I Spied a Fisher Cat!

Two days ago, while stalking a Belted Kingfisher that was fishing on the Lobster Cove Marsh in Phippsburg, this Fisher nearly jumped on me. It is very rare to see one of these elusive creatures. They are solitary and secretive and generally nocturnal. I had been standing stalk still (get it? I was stalking.) using my open car door for cover. I had stood still so long that I was uncomfortable. I was also hot, but did not dare move to remove my jacket. I had been watching the Belted Kingfisher sitting on a branch and once in a while slamming into the water to take little fish. Quite suddenly, this Fisher appeared bounding along the marsh edge and then slipping into the water. The name of the Fisher, sometimes called a Fisher Cat, implies that its diet is of fish though it seldom eats aquatic organisms. Early Dutch settlers noted its similarity to the European polecat (Mustela putorius). Fitchet is a name derived from the Dutch word visse which means 'nasty'. To debunk another misconception, they are not really very nasty. In fact, this largest member of the weasel family is quite timid. They eat mostly rabbits and porcupines and are one of the few animals that will pursue and attack porkies. Contrary to popular myth, they don't toss over the porky and eat its belly like a melon. They repeatedly bite the face of the porky, until they kill it. It takes about 30 minutes. Fishers are generalist predators and will also eat carrion. Perhaps another reason it came so close to me was because I was downwind in a steady breeze (it would be really juvenile to make a rude remark here, don't you think?). Fishers do have a call issued at night from the conifer woods they prefer that is a wild-crazy-person-killing-somebody sound. We hear it frequently at night.  I've often thought that someone was being harmed and have thought of calling the sheriff on more than one occasion. I've got an audio clip below so you can hear it. When I play this, our dogs get all cranked up barking and running around. It's not uncommon for them to start barking in the middle of the night when they hear this shrieking. The pelts of fishers were so popular that by the mid eighteen hundreds they had been nearly wiped out in New England. Fishers reproduce once a year. They don't hang out with each other unless to mate in late March and early April. Then, the female delays embryo implantation until the following February when active pregnancy begins. She gives birth about 50 days later, usually in a hollowed out tree. She'll have 1-6 kits. The adults are about 35-40" long and weigh around 10 pounds. The males are a little bigger than the females. The largest recorded Fisher weighed in at twenty pounds. They will eat cats and attack dogs, but not people. Nonetheless, this one was big enough that I would not have wanted it coming at me and in a bad mood.

Play this with your volume up for a real hair-raising noise. Because we have lots of conifers and lots of Porcupines, we have lots of Fishers, though this is the first one I've ever seen. Are you wondering where the Belted Kingfisher photos are? Hold your horses; I'll put them on the next post.


  1. Growing up we had Fishers behind the house. We lost many cats to them and I still remember my mother's warning to be careful when we would go tromping around in the back 40. Scary critters they are!

    Great shots Robin!

  2. That is a creepy bizarre sound!!!I saw one chasing a rabbit across the back lawn a few years back!! Ya! Renee is right I did warn them to be careful tromping around in the back forty. :)

  3. My guys never made recognition of the fisher cry! Must have been exciting for you to see one so close. Go Gal!

  4. So great…I have always wondered what a fisher looked like. Thanks so much.

  5. Numerous folks have e mailed to inform me that the Fisher is not a cat. I am well aware of that. It is commonly referred to as a "Fisher Cat" as it reminded European settlers of thier "Pole Cat," another member of the weasel family. Also, I did not record the audio clip. It was done by fisherscream.com. Youtube also has a Red fox recording if anyone would like to compare the sounds. Porucupines also make hellacious night noises. Obviously, it can not be proved what made the sound on the audio, utlimately. Unless, of course, one is David Carouso and wears $200 sun glasses.

  6. Great photos of the Fisher! I have seen on rare occasions on the stonewall behind our house; they use it as a kind of highway. This is one of the reasons why I won't let my little dog go out at night by herself. Also saw one once snagging caterpillar nests out of a tree. It took off as soon as it saw me. Playing the sound track I recognized the sound, have heard it a night coming from our wetland - thought it was an animal being tortured. You finally cleared up the mystery. Thanks also for the info on fishers - interesting post!!

  7. Thank you very much Hilke!

  8. a follow up to this, I shared the audio clip Robin posted on herblog with the two people who had told me they heard a barn owl whiledoing an owl survey last week in the Midcoast, and one of them saidthat actually the screaming fox (videos of which come up when you goto youtube.com to listen to the fisher clip) sounded more like whatthey heard. Who knew there were so many screaming things out there inthe dark? Kristen LindquistCamden

  9. We have a fox family that sits outside our house at night. Sometimes they sort of bark to each other but sometimes the screams are quite chilling. What makes it worse is that they set off some ancient past in our Springer and he sits up and howls like a coyote. Then, of course, there is the GH owl family that has a whole variety of screeches and howls, one in particular that makes you shiver a little even tho you KNOW what it is. I never get any sleep...

  10. Awesome tape of the fisher. I recently watched a mink catch and eat Fundulus diaphanus , thru the ice, at Green Point. It occurs to me that the fisher is just a large version of the mink, but much more rarely seen. Your photos are simply the best I've ever seen of that rascal.
    and your photos of Palm Warb, SNEG, etc are marvelous.

  11. Hi, The pre recorded sounds of nature that the coyote hunters use to draw in a coyote are beyond belief so any night sounds could be hard to prove. The fisher is not a cat.

  12. Very cool, Robin. Love the video link--had no idea they make noiseslike that. I'm wondering if they might have led to a recent report ofsomeone allegedly hearing a barn owl in this area. (We definitely havefishers, but a barn owl would be a true rarity.) Also had a chance tocheck out some of your other recent photos. Love the palm warbler!Keep up the good work. Kristen

  13. I liked the Fisher pics., that was something. I always thought that they were the wildest of
    all the weasels, and did not like to be in, or near habit of humans, not that I blame them. lol

    But, from by some of the comments that answered you Blog pics, it seems they are more common
    than I had thought. By the way your site overwhelmes me...in that it is huge, and always has more, and
    more to see. I don't know where you find the time. ? I go out every day to shoot some pixels at something,
    But you..... do have the camera permanently attatched. lol But, hey that is the way you got those neat,
    Fisher shots !

  14. My guess is that you were wearing your bathrobe, and that fisher took one look, and said, "I'm outta here...." Am I correct??

  15. You betcha! Ran like a wiener when it saw me in that get up.

  16. Fanatstic photos of the Fisher and how lucky are you to see it during the day.
    I heard screaching sounds like in the video one night, it freaked my cats out. It turned out to be a red fox that walked right past the house.

  17. Hey Robin: My husband and I spied what we think was a fisher cat too! We weren’t sure what it was, but Pete looked at your blog with me and we are pretty sure of it now. It had a snake or something in its mouth. Pete noticed it out the window on our front doorstep. Reminded us of our son’s cat, who drops off dead mice there for us too! I was upstairs cleaning and went to the window just as it went over the bank and out-of-sight. I wish I was as fast as you were getting a shot of it. Thanks for sharing, Leah

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