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…
- If you appreciate what The Swellesley Report offers, please consider making a non-deductible contribution
This must have been the strange beast that once descended a tree within inches of my kitchen window–headfirst from the roof! Not a cat.
Michael Capecci says
Awesome update. I remember when we 1st moved to Wellesley 25 years ago, we had one in the neighborhood and Sue Webb recommended that we keep our cat indoors from now on as several had disappeared. Our cat weighed nearly 20lbs so I was curious about these elusive animals. .A Fisher was spotted several times on River Rd. not far from our house. Great video to expell some of the myth about these creatures.
Dont let this picture of this Fisher cat fool you. A Fisher cat trapped our cat in neighbors shed for 3 days trying to kill her. Luckily she was up in rafters, but could see the claw marks where he kept jumping up and sliding down. I noticed fisher walking down my driveway and just knew my cat was trapped. We saved our cat but Fisher came back for more. Our dogs let us know he was back. Let’s just say it didnt end well for the Fisher Cat. They are VICIOUS AND HAVE BEEN KNOWN TO TAKE DOWN HORSES. SO I DONT KNOW WHAT MYTH YOU SPEAK OF…
One wandered into our small back yard in Newton. I don’t mean to be too negative, but they are really fairly nasty things. They are not afraid of humans (as weasels and mink are not either) and you’ll have to do more than wave your arms to get scare them.
They will kill small animals and leave them. A friend of mine had his domestic ducks be-headed and left in their pen by a fisher. It’s no myth.
The fisher climbed around our pine trees and jumped around, presumably looking for squirrels/bird nests.
He (she) was quite large. At least 20 pounds, almost as big as our small dog (I’m glad she wasn’t in the backyard at the time).
I grew up in rural NY state and have an appreciation (and respect) for wild animals, especially in heavily populated areas like Newton. It’s an unfortunate clash of human encroachment on “wild” areas.
Big C says
Beautiful to see but don’t you ever think it wont beat the crap out of you. Winter street Brockton, Ma they enjoyed the feral cats and my poor grandma was afraid to go into her yard again.
Hi, I live in Bellingham MA and we hv one in the area around us. Not seen it personally but a friend has. She worked at the southwick zoo yrs ago an raised a couple pups. They are vicious cuz she was showing it to k iui ds one days an fir some unknown reason while showing attacked her. She just got minor scratches. Beautiful animals
I love fishercats , they taste like chicken
Please note: it’s a Fisher. Not a fisher CAT
Bob Brown says
Yes, thanks, we note that in the post.
A few years back I was in my yard cutting the grass. I looked up at a very large bush I have and noticed something that looked like a large cat. But I knew it wasn’t from the long nails it had. I called animal control and when they came out he told me it was a fisher This was during the day around 1pm. We just left it alone and a half hour later it was gone. Saugus MA Before that I never heard of the animal.
Tom de Steuben says
Here in Merrimack New Hampshire (in my neighborhood) we had an abundance of squirrels. They were making nests under my roof. Well, early one morning my neighbor was out with his dog and near his back porch he saw a Fisher! Eventually, the abundance of squirrels went away! “Thank you Fisher!” I came across a dead fisher out on a road once so I pulled over, got out and moved it to the side of the road. They are pure muscle! How do they eat a porcupine? Flip him over first?
Two fishers streamed through our Wellesley yard one morning in July. They were beautifully fluid and agile. One came by first, then perched on top of our 6 foot fence and waited for the second to shimmy up, and then they both disappeared down the other side. I was so mesmerized that I didn’t get a photo. Kudos to Beth Shedd for this video!
This was a great article full of real facts about Fishers. Thank you for being so factual
We have a family of 5 fishers living in our woods behind our house. We see them frequently.
Great article but I agree with others, they are beautiful looking WILD animals but can be very aggressive. Especially if it’s a pregnant female or if it has babies nearby. I also believe they do make a “screaming” noise. We have them in our trees occasionally and you can hear them. I’ve seen videos out there with the noise they make. Sounds close to a foxes “scream”.
Robert Crowe says
I worked at stony brook one of mass Audubon’s site. Yes they do scream a blood curdling scream we also had one that was hit by a car in Norfolk and it measured 5 feet. I believe it was given to tuffs . It killed a ground hog side of the house and was going after foxes on the property.
Tina Riggs says
Fisher Cats WILL take your cat if left outside. Fisher cats travel the exact same route encompassing 10 square miles for a female and 30 square miles for a male fisher. Fisher cats DO make a very very loud screeching sound that is unlike any sound you might be familiar with. Fisher cats are rarely seen, they are evasive and quick. Never Ever approach this vermin, their teeth are razor sharp and they are vicious and totally untrainable. Check out YouTube videos for the screeching sound of a fisher cat.
They absolutely do shriek and make very loud horrible noises that sound like a baby being slaughtered. It’s pretty nasty sounding. No lie, the author apparently hasn’t heard it! My dog had one cornered that was trying to get our cat, saw it and heard it with my own ears and eyes. Foxes do have a similar sound. They make the noises to startle prey so they can find it, and yes do climb trees, even eat porcupines. Amazing elusive creatures that play very important role in our ecosystems, very cool to see!
Pretty interesting actually
“A porcupine’s face is its only unprotected portion other than its belly, and the fisher has evolved quickness and agility in order to take advantage of this gap in the porcupine’s armor. It rapidly strikes the face of the porcupine in order to injure its prey. Often, the attack can take over a half an hour until the fisher can inflict a lethal bite.
A porcupine spends most of its time in trees, where it is safe from terrestrial assailants. This tactic may work for many predators, but it is useless against the fisher. This long, sleek creature will use its supreme arboreal abilities to chase a porcupine up a tree and wear down its prey before attacking. Like a squirrel, a fisher can climb a tree and then swivel around and descend head first into the porcupine, forcing it to the ground. Once on the ground, the agile fisher now has the advantage over its sluggish prey.
Though a fisher is not completely immune to a porcupine quill, it is able to fend off serious infections from quill injuries that would otherwise kill most animals. Tagged fishers are often found with quills embedded deep within the skin from previous encounters. In some areas, fishers were reintroduced in order to control the porcupine populations”
I live in Eastern Tennessee and have video of a Fisher walking across my drive. Sounds like a woman screaming.
Ashley R says
Just had one in my back yard here in Brockton Ma.