Recently, I was gazing out my back window and spotted an unfamiliar animal in my yard, not too far from my back step. I turned away for just a few seconds-to get my camera, and when I turned back, it was gone. A search on the Internet revealed that I had seen a fisher.
Initially, I had a fearful reaction, but a discussion with a wildlife biologist put me at ease. Although some people say they’d never heard of fishers (often mistakenly called fisher cats) until recent years, these relatives of the weasel have been around for a quite awhile.
Wildlife biologist with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Paul Rego said these animals are native to Connecticut. The elimination of much of the forest, however, and thus their natural habitat, led to their subsequent scarcity.
In the late 1980s DEEP re-introduced fishers to the state (the northwestern part) by bringing them in from Vermont and New Hampshire. Natural range expansion moved them from central Massachusetts into eastern Connecticut.
“Now they have a suitable habitat here,” Rego said, “because currently 60 to 70 percent of the state is forests, as compared to 20 to 30 percent in the mid 1800s. And a suitable habitat means population growth. They’re found throughout the state, but mostly in the eastern part. Their overpopulation is not an issue because they’re predators, and predators do not have a high density. It’s the law of nature. You can’t have the name numbers of predators as their prey, or else the prey would be wiped out.”
Regos said fishers are members of the weasel family, dark brown in color, with small ears. The female weighs five to eight pounds and the male weighs eight to fourteen pounds. They are omnivorous, eating acorns and berries and preying on squirrels, small mammals, chipmunks, and some birds. Their predators are hawks, owls, and coyotes, but none of these have a great impact on their population, according to Rego. They’re active any time of the day and do not hibernate in the winter. They don’t always need shelter, depending on the time of the year, but when they do, they use tree cavities, boroughs, and the nests of other animals. Because fishers are predators they have a fairly high metabolism, and pend a good part of their time hunting for food.
Rumors about their ferocity aside, Rego assures that there is no need to fear fishers. “They’re not aggressive. They avoid people, and when they see them they’ll most likely run up a tree. And yes, they may attack a cat, but so will coyotes, foxes, and certain birds of prey.”