fisher
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Species Profile: The Predatory Fisher


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I've got a pretty elaborate trail camera setup around my area of upstate New York, and I'm fond of following the deer, turkeys, and other game animals that make their way past the lenses. Of course, there are other critters that show up and make appearances, and I always get a little excited when a new animal is captured. That excitement was multiplied recently when I came across the clip you see below of a fisher, one of the region's most interesting inhabitants.

If you've ever been fortunate enough to see a fisher in the wild, you may not think that this diminutive creature could be that much of a threat to smaller animals, but the predatory fisher should not be underestimated. This notoriously shy and elusive mammal is a top level predator even though its size and mannerisms make it seem more cuddly than ferocious. Although many people have mistakenly referred to the fisher as a "fisher cat," it is far from a feline. In fact, the fisher belongs to the mustelidae family, which includes weasels, otters, and wolverines. This is an animal that, for many years, had only one real threat: human beings. The fisher's fur had long been a favorite among trappers and traders in North America. Now, with conservation and regulation, these furbearers can be legally harvested again thanks to strict seasons, habitat recovery, and reintroductions that have restored the fisher back into much of its original range.

Fishers and the American marten are closely related, but the fisher is quite bigger; in fact, it's roughly twice as big. While both are predatory, it is the fisher that is considered not only aggressive, but vicious once it has chosen to attack.

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The fisher's fur is much darker than that of the marten. The martin is distinguished by the two black vertical lines that lead from just above their eyes to their forehead, which the fisher does not have. Fishers have much more rounded ears set close to their heads along with dangerous looking teeth and retractible claws.

Martens and another cousin, the mink, are generally more associated with rivers, streams, ponds, and other waterways, whereas the fisher is more of a boreal forest dweller. As a species, the fisher has other names based on aboriginal languages which include pekan, pequam, and wejack.

The Fisher's Hunting Reputation

As with many predatory animals, the fisher is an opportunist feeder meaning that, while it will always actively hunt for prey, it will supplement its diet with other things that it comes across including insects, berries, and even carrion. The male fisher, which is larger than the female, can weigh from nine to 15 pounds or more. That may not seem all that big, but the the list of the animals that a fisher is known to feed on is.

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It's not above the fisher to prey on (or try to prey on) animals like the wild turkey, rabbits, squirrels, snowshoe hares, and even porcupines (In fact they're one of the only animals to do so). While it has been said that to kill porcupines a fisher will roll the animal over and attack its underside, it is more known to attack the porcupine at its head and face until it is subdued. It may also surprise some to find out that fishers have even been known to attack, kill, and eat Canadian lynx.

Fisher Habitat and Distribution

Fishers love to be in the woods and can climb trees quite well. While they are a resident of coniferous forests, they prefer mixed hardwoods and typical boreal forests, and they favor old-growth forests that have a lot of understory. Female fishers den in hollow trees in these areas for protection of the kits that are born in March and April.

Fishers exist in the mostly in the northern tier of states and far into Canada, but there are populations south through Pennsylvania. Their existence is a big part of New York's Catskill and Adirondack Mountains and many live in the New England states. Fishers have been reintroduced into the American Northwest and are active up into British Columbia.

Interestingly enough, fishers don't do very well in areas that have a continuously deep snow, even though a favored prey animal is the snowshoe hare.

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Fisher Trapping in the U.S.

As with many species, the fisher was nearly wiped out by the turn of the century by the fur trade for their excellent pelts. Today's trappers use either bodygrip traps or full size live traps to keep the loss of the fur to a minimum. In New York, trapping season dates start around the end of October or early November (depending on the region) and last until the end of November or early December. At this time, there are no bag limits for trapping fishers in New York.

Some sources indicate that fisher pelts are worth up to $30 per pelt, but are considered unique and limited in supply, meaning that the price could easily rise in the future.

Ultimately, fishers are a very interesting animal that is well worth learning more about. This animal preys on species that other creatures will leave alone, has a vicious disposition, and both the male and the female are highly skilled hunters. What's not to like?

Please check out my book "The Hunter's Way" from HarperCollins. Be sure to follow my webpage, or on Facebook and YouTube

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