The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, October 8, 1999


The return of the fisher

Growing up, I thought coyotes were part of the "wild west," and fishers were part of the "wild northland," but both are now living in Carlisle. Unlike coyotes, fishers (Martes pennanti,) were part of the New England ecology centuries ago. But by the 1800s, loss of forest habitat and trapping had contributed to their disappearance from Massachusetts. Fishers remained in parts of New Hampshire and Maine, and according to Joe Choiniere, the director of Massachusetts Audubon Societys Wachusett Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary, they began to move back into Massachusetts in the early 1970s.

Fishers are dark brown or black, with small rounded ears. Twelve pounds is a typical weight for a male, while females weigh half that. Like other members of the mustelid, or weasel family, fishers have a long body with short legs. Not counting the tail, the adult body is between 20" and 25" long. And like all mustelids, fishers produce musk (a liquid with a strong odor) though their production is not in the same league as that of the skunk.

Fishers are not actually known for fishing! They live in wooded habitat, and eat small mammals, birds and carrion. Their diet includes mice, squirrels, wild turkey, snowshoe hares and porcupines. Their webbed feet may have contributed to their ill-fitting name. Instead of being used for swimming, the webbed feet of the fisher help it in the snow.

According to Walker's Mammals of the World, Vol. II, by Ronald M. Nowak ( John Hopkins Univ. Press 1991) fishers give birth to three to five young in the spring. The young leave the mother after five months, and live up to about ten years. While male and female territories overlap, the adults are solitary animals, except during the breeding season.

The wildlife inventory project was begun last year to collect sightings of animals and plants in Carlisle. So far there have been half a dozen reports of fishers seen in town. Most were during the past couple of years, and half the sightings were made in the fall. Fishers have been seen in all four quadrants of town.

One person found a fisher in Estabrook Woods. Actually, the person's dog discovered the fisher and barked from the ground while the fisher stayed up in a tree. Another person watched a fisher kill a gray squirrel from her kitchen window. One fisher was seen crossing the road, and another was spotted near some penned birds in a back yard.

If, on one of your walks in the woods, you (or your dog) discover a strange brown animal up in a tree, see if it is a fisher. For all your interesting wildlife sightings, please send in a report to the inventory project.

Carlisle Wildlife Inventory Record






Please send to:

Wildlife Inventory, 21 Patten Lane

Or email to

For more information on fishers, see "Fisher Forests" by Joe Choiniere in the September/October issue of Massachusetts Audubon Society's Sanctuary magazine.

1999 The Carlisle Mosquito