A fisher (Martes pennanti) is no measly weasel. The largest member of this family is making a comeback in New York State. Once nearly eliminated in all of the U.S. because of habitat loss and over harvesting, fisher numbers are increasing due to protective regulations and reintroductions. Fishers can be found in farm country with mixed habitats, less a creature of the big woods than once thought. (Scott Smith, DEC, personal communication) An extensive survey project using baited trail cameras is being conducted by Cornell University and the DEC to determine the extent of the fisher’s return into Central and Western NY. The feisty fishers are anthropomorphically saying “I’ll be back!”
Fishers are solitary, secretive, fearsome, ferocious, voracious and able to travel long distances. They forage by zigzagging through terrain searching for whatever food they can find. Rabbits/hares, squirrels, mice, birds, fawns and carrion are all fair game (pun intended), as well as apples, acorns, beechnuts and berries. A fisher specialty however, is porcupine. They are the only predators that are particularly adapted for dealing with such a prickly situation. A porcupine on the ground is most vulnerable, and even though it will try to face a tree in order to keep it’s formidable quills towards the opponent, the fisher will harass its face, biting and scratching, until the porcupine succumbs and the unprotected belly can be exposed. Porcupines are an important food source for fishers since one may last a month compared to consuming about 7 – 22 mice per day.
Fishers are expanding their range, including into Genesee County, although the numbers are presumed to be still quite low (Scott Smith, DEC, personal communication). Sightings have been documented by the increase in trail cam images and by the number of road kills. In 2011 a 15 pound (enormous) road-killed fisher was found near Brockport. It was the first documented fisher in Monroe County in 100 years. More recently, animals were hit in the towns of Pavilion and Oakfield a few years ago, and 2 more near Rochester just last Spring.
As you continue on your outdoor adventures, there is a chance that you could spot this fascinating creature. You can share your trail cam images and sightings of fishers, as well as bobcat and otters, at the DEC’s website.
Happy trails to you!