Also known simply as the fisher, the fisher cat is a forest-dwelling mammal found in the northern United States and Canada. If you’ve never heard of one of this creature before, its unique nomenclature might confuse you. Is it a cat, or is it some other kind of mystical creature that hunts for fish?
The short answer – it’s neither.
However, if you have livestock – particularly chickens and other small animals – the fisher cat can be a serious pest that you have to contend with. These ferocious predators are weasels, the second-largest member of the weasel family, in fact.
We have fisher cats where I live, although they aren’t all that common. That’s good news for us, since our farm is home to nearly 100 chickens and a variety of other livestock animals.
However, we’re always on the lookout for these predators and actively take steps to prevent them, since even one fisher in the area would prove to be disastrous for our animals.
If you’re looking for tips on fisher cat pest control to keep your livestock safe, you’ve come to the right place.
What Are Fisher Cats?
Fishers, as I mentioned earlier, are weasels that live in forests in the northern part of the United States and Canada. Not a feline nor a hunter of fish, the fisher cat is a weasel that measures about 25 to 50 inches in length, depending on the gender (males are much larger).
These creatures have short, stocky legs and retractable claws that they use for climbing and hunting. They have lengthy foot-long tails and are usually a dark brown to black in color.
Fisher cats nearly went extinct in the 1700s and 1800s as loggers and farmers cleared them out. Interestingly, they were actually reintroduced by logging companies in the 1950s in an attempt to control porcupines, who were wreaking havoc on trees in logged areas.
Today you will only find fishers in North America ranging from the Sierra Nevada to the Appalachian mountain ranges along with places like New England, southern Canada, New York, West Virginia, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
Fishers mate in the late winter and early spring months, typically between March and May. Letters are small with only two or three babies, but fishers can survive for up to ten years in the wild.
These predators feed on all sorts of animals, including porcupines, rabbits, squirrels, birds of all kinds, and rodents. They will also sometimes eat berries and other fruits.
Fisher cats usually hang out in forested areas, where they can climb from tree to tree as they look for food. They like forest floors with woody debris and plenty of fallen trees.
You aren’t likely to see a fisher cat, since they usually avoid human contact. However, as we encroach on their natural territory, you are more likely to see these creatures or worse, to be bitten if you come into close contact with them.
They often hang out around hollow trees, brush piles, and stumps as they look for temporary housing but can occasionally get into your trash, too.
One of the telltale signs of the presence of a fisher cat doesn’t have anything to do with its appearance at all, but instead its call. It has an incredibly high-pitched yell that sounds just like a woman screaming.
Why Are Fisher Cats a Threat?
Normally, fisher cats will keep their distance from humans and won’t want to come anywhere near you or your home. They aren’t like other mammalian pests, such as skunks, who like to hide under buildings.
However, fisher sightings have gradually begun to increase, probably because there is more regulation of trapping and reforestation of formerly abandoned farmland.
At face value, fishers aren’t a threat. However, you don’t want to come into contact with it. They have sharp teeth and long claws, and are known for being extremely aggressive when they feel threatened. They can also prey on house cats, small dogs, and livestock.
They can carry rabies, mange, fleas, and ticks, with rabies being one of the biggest and most direct threats to humans. If you are bitten by a fisher cat, rabies is a distinct possibility.
Signs of a Fisher Cat Problem
Chances are, if you see a fisher cat around your property, you can assume you have a problem – they don’t like being around humans, so seeing one should be all the encouragement you need to take action.
However, you might also notice signs of an attack first thing in the morning or late in the evening – these are the times when fisher cats are most active.
They will kill one, two, or more birds, usually killing more animals during times of desperation or when they are trying to store food for colder months ahead.
It’s graphic, but you’ll know it’s a fisher cat that attacked your animals if you notice that the bite marks are located at the rear end of the animal and the intestines are pulled out.
You might also see fisher cat tracks around your house. They look a lot like the tracks of a house cat or fox, with four or five toes imprinted and a C-shaped pad print. The manure looks similar to that of a fox.
How to Prevent Fisher Cats
Identify Vulnerable Areas
If you have suddenly begun to see fisher cats hanging around your property, your first step should be to figure out what’s attracting them in the first place. Identifying fisher activity and areas of damage will help you determine the best scale and location of your defense.
Some of the most common areas include chicken coops, rabbit cages, bird nests, and barns. Take a close look at these areas as well as the rest of your property to see where fisher cat tracks and damages are obvious.
Clean Things Up
One of the easiest – and perhaps most obvious – ways to prevent fisher cats is to clean things up. Get rid of any decaying organic matter, like brush, stumps, and logs.
This will reduce potential hiding spots for these creatures, as will trimming back any trees and bushes, and mowing the lawn. The fewer hiding spots they have, the less likely you are to see them around.
Secure Animal Food
Although fisher cats might not be tempted to eat your dog’s food, or get into your bin of chicken grain, these attract other animal pests upon which fisher cats might decide to feed.
For example, mice and rats are frequently attracted to chicken feed, and the more mice you have, the more fisher cats you are likely to see hanging around, too.
Make sure all pet food is either brought inside at night or secured in locking, airtight containers. Livestock feed should be stored separately from your livestock and also in airtight containers.
You will also want to make sure you keep all trash cans secured and locked for the same reasons mentioned above. Exposed garbage and compost can attract small mammals, which in turn attract fishers.
Remove Bird Feeders
If you’re in the habit of feeding your livestock or wild birds outside, stop doing that immediately. You need to keep bird feeder areas clean as the seeds will attract rodents, like squirrels. Again, these are creatures that fisher cats prey upon.
You might be okay with a bird feeder here or there if you don’t have any specific problems with fisher cats, but if you see any hanging around, remove them right away.
Make Sure the Chicken Coop Is Secure
Unfortunately, fisher cats will view your chickens as prey, no matter how large, and they will kill several chickens at one time. Keep poultry (and rabbits, if you have them – fisher cats love eating rabbits, too) in tightly-secured buildings with no gaps or cracks.
Lock your chickens in each night, and make sure you don’t have any roosting in places besides the coop.
Use heavy-gauge hardware cloth to block entry to the coop. Chicken wire is not adequate against fisher cats, weasels, and other pests with long claws, who can simply pry apart the cloth and get inside.
If you have a problem with rats and mice inside or near your chicken coop or barn, you may need to use a few rodent traps to get rid of them.
Don’t let your chickens out during the day to free-range if you have a known weasel problem. Fisher cats are more likely to strike at dawn and dusk, so keeping your chickens locked up during these times is ideal.
A well-protected coop isn’t going to be that inviting to a fisher cat, since they aren’t going to waste time investigating and staking out a coop to find out how to get inside (this is something that raccoons and foxes are notorious for).
However, if there are any weak spots in your coop, such as windows that are left open, fisher cats are sure to find them.
Putting a tall fence around your coop and run is a good way to deter fisher cats, particularly if you use electricity at the top.
This will deter climbing fisher cats as well as many other kinds of predators. Put hardware mesh at the bottom three feet of the run to prevent chewing and digging through, too.
Do your best to increase visibility around your coop. Not only will trimming back trees or overhanging branches make it easier for you to watch for potential threats, but it can protect against a variety of predators who will use the treetops to hunt for chickens, such as fishers and even hawks.
Remove any cover that exists within 50 feet or so of the coop. You may also want to install a few motion sensor lights, which will help startle and deter fisher cats from hanging out by your coop.
How to Get Rid of Fisher Cats
Scare Them Off
There are several tactics you can employ to get rid of fisher cats. One of the easiest – and least threatening – is to scare them off.
Some people believe that large dogs have the ability to scare fisher cats away, as do loud noises, bright lights, and commercial odor repellents that utilize the odor of predators.
Although motion-activated sprinklers are believed to be more effective against other kinds of weasels than fisher cats, it’s definitely worth a try, particularly if you’ve only just started seeing fishers in your area.
A word to the wise – they will likely catch on to this scare tactic eventually, so it’s only a temporary stopgap at best in your management plan.
You should also avoid spraying fisher cats directly with a hose to scare them off – only use sprinklers that are activated by activity, and don’t require you to be on the operating end of the hose.
Otherwise, consider installing a motion-activated sprinkler (or several), which will seek out approaching fisher cats and release bursts of water to deter them.
There are some farmers and homesteaders who will try to trap fisher cats to get rid of them, either with cage traps or other mechanisms. Some people also resort to shooting them, but in most places, this is not legal.
If you don’t have any experience trapping or hunting, I don’t recommend you try this, and always consult the wildlife authorities in your area to make sure that trapping fisher cats is legal and safe.
There are a few kinds of traps you can use, including leg traps and live traps. If you use a leg trap, you will need to bait it with a piece of fresh meat. A live trap, like a Havahart, will enable you to catch a weasel without harming it.
Again, you’ll need to bait it with fresh meat. If you catch the fisher cat, your best bet is to contact the local animal control authorities to find out the best way to relocate the animal.
In most cases, you will be better off contacting someone who has professional training in the matter, like a pest control or wildlife service company. They know the best ways to handle a variety of animals so that the risk of injury is very low.
Will Fisher Cats Go After Larger Livestock?
Fortunately, fisher cats will rarely go after animals much larger than a chicken. They are generalist eaters but prefer fruits, rodents, and birds. Occasionally, they’ll go after slightly larger prey like beavers or house cats.
However, you likely don’t have to worry about a fisher cat threatening a larger animal, like a pig, goat, sheep, or cow. In very isolated cases, you might want to watch newborn lambs and piglets to make sure they don’t become a fisher cat target, but this would be unlikely.
Therefore, your efforts at preventing fisher cats should be targeted mostly toward protecting your chickens, rabbits, and other small animals. By following these tips for fisher cat pest control, you’ll be able to keep your livestock safe – and fisher cats far away.
Rebekah is a high-school English teacher n New York, where she lives on a 22 acre homestead. She raises and grows chickens, bees, and veggies such as zucchini (among other things).