As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, we installed outdoor cameras in December 2017 and have amassed a fun collection of animal videos over the last year and a quarter. Many are of the usual suspects — raccoons, rabbit, squirrels, deer — but a few have stood out as rather extraordinary. I want to share my favourite one with you today.

Check this out. It’s a fisher!

I wasn’t sure, when I reviewed the video, what I was seeing. I could tell it was a mustelid, a member of the “weasel family”. So I mentally ran through the list of common species nearby — minks, least weasels, and otters — all those long, slinky animals.

My first instinct was to look at that long body and thick dragging tail and think otter. But otters don’t traipse around at 2:00 in the morning. And it didn’t move like an otter. Size-wise, it couldn’t be a mink and weasel. They are are much smaller.

That left me with one remaining suspect — the fisher.

Now I have never seen a fisher here and, until a few months ago, didn’t even think they were in this area. But earlier this winter my neighbour up the hill caught a still shot of one on his trail cam. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. We have fishers here! What are the chances I’d ever see one?

I went to Science Twitter for confirmation.


I included screen captures and photos of the animal’s footprints to help with the ID.




L: Hindfoot print  R: Forefoot print. Fishers have five toes on each foot, with unsheathed, retractable claws. Their feet are large, making it easier for them to move on top of snow packs. In addition to the toes, four central pads are on each foot. On the hind paws are coarse hairs that grow between the pads and the toes, giving them added traction when walking on slippery surfaces. Wikipedia


And the replies were unanimous —


Fisher climbing up a tree. While they spend most of their time on the ground, they are skilled tree-climbers.  Like squirrels, their rear ankle joints can rotate almost 180° allowing them to run down trees headfirst.  Credit: New York State Education Department – Public Domain


Like most mustelids, they are opportunistic carnivores, feeding on everything from carrion and grubs to squirrels, rabbits and larger prey. They are one of the few known species that hunt and kill porcupines. This fact was interesting to me because late last summer I came across the remains of a dead porcupine off the side of the trail — well, to be accurate — a pile of quills, bones, skin, and its tail. I searched around but couldn’t find the skull.


I had passed this spot regularly over the previous weeks and had seen a live porcupine in the area a couple of times, but not this. So it left me puzzled. What had killed it?  Now I think we know.


Fisher etymology: Despite its name, the fisher is not known to eat fish. The name derives from “fitch”, a word for the European polecat (Mustela putorius) due their similarities. In colonial Dutch it is fisse or visse and in French, the pelt of a polecat is also called fiche or fichet. Credit info: Wikipedia. Photo by, CC BY-SA 3.0


Fishers have a reputation of being fierce and aggressive — and occasionally loud. During mating season (which is now, by the way), they have a scream that’s described like that of a woman being attacked. I did a cursory search to see if I could find an audio that’s confirmed to be a fisher, but no luck. Everything I found was more likely a fox. I had hoped to find an official file in the Cornell Macaulay Library animal sounds database, but there’s nothing there.


The fisher’s fierce reputation begins with its ability to take down large prey such as foxes, young bears, and even lynx. They also have a penchant for dining on chickens, cats, dogs, and other domestic animals. But they have also been known to attack people.
Unprovoked attacks on humans are extremely rare but may be increasing as they expand their range. They quickly become aggressive if they feel threatened or cornered. Hunters in tree stands have been attacked by fishers, probably because they are unwittingly too close to the animal and are preventing it from reaching the ground.
“He was on my head spinning in circles, trying to get a grip, biting and clawing … I couldn’t get him off.” — Roberto Giugovaz (Kingston Whig Standard)


So, while I’m pleased to have one in the neighbourhood, I’m happy to keep my distance and hope that it meets a mate, parents young, and makes an occasional appearance on my trail cam.


** Header photo: USFW – public domain