A fisher cat knew what it was doing by roaming around Wellesley resident and photographer Beth Shedd’s yard. Shedd can make anybody look their best on camera, as you can see in this 11 seconds of glory for “Freddy” that she posted on social media this week (and allowed us to share).
This video is right up there with 2018’s “Otter vs. Eel” seen in Wellesley.
Fisher cats, or more accurately “fishers,” are known for being “elusive”—that’s the word everyone seems to use when describing this member of the weasel family. The only one I’ve seen in the wild skittered across Pond Road in Wellesley at dawn a few years back while I was running. Pretty sure I picked up my pace when I saw it.
Shedd said “this was our first up close and personal, but we’ve seen them under shrubs in the perimeter of our garden years ago.”
Wellesley Animal Control Officer Jenny Smith says the only one she’s seen in town since starting her job in early 2021 was unfortunately hit by a car. “Other than that it has only been reported to me once, a resident hearing one in their neighborhood,” Smith said.
Fun facts from Smith about the animals are that “they remain active year round and do not hibernate. Their preferred habitat is mixed forest with heavy canopy cover, as they tend to avoid traveling in large open areas. They commonly use hollow logs, stonewalls, tree cavities, and brush piles to rest. Fishers are omnivorous. Their primary foods include small rodents, squirrels, rabbits, birds, eggs, fruit, porcupines, and carrion… Although they are proficient climbers, most of their hunting takes place on the ground.”
Lisa Moore, the environmental education, outreach, and compliance coordinator for Wellesley’s Natural Resources Commission, calls them “one of the most misunderstood animals around here.”
She’s learned about them while working for Mass Audubon for the last 10 years, plus has spotted them in her yard on occasion. One of her fun facts is that fishers can climb down a tree headfirst.
“Often called a Fisher Cat, which is a misnomer,” Moore says. “They belong to the weasel family, and are not a cat and don’t fish. This small mammal ranges in size from 4-16 lbs, with females being smaller than males. Males tend to be about three feet long and females about two feet long, in both sexes the tail makes up a third of the body length.”
While I’ve bought into the idea that screaming fishers are among the critters that keep me awake at night, Moore says fishers screaming is a misconception. “Fishers will hiss, growl, and make a chuckle sound, but they do not scream. The grey fox also can climb trees and the female call during mating sounds like a child or woman screaming,” she says.
Mass Audubon says fishers were reintroduced in New England in the 1950s to control porcupines.
Moore says “I do not know if they rebounded or were reintroduced to manage the porcupine population that exploded as the fisher declined. Porcupine can decimate the understory of a forest and kill trees by collaring them, eating the bark and under bark off a tree around the entire trunk killing the tree. Fishers are one of the few animals that will actively hunt and eat porcupine. Really shows the importance of a balanced food chain or food web.”
The state’s MassWildlife agency encourages you not to “let fishers intimidate you: Don’t hesitate to scare or threaten fishers with loud noises, bright lights, or water sprayed from a hose.”
We’re not sure if that latter approach is an allowed use under the town’s outside water restrictions…
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