Fearless, vicious, sneaky, and deadly; is the common perception of a fisher cat.
While some of this is true, we will look at this solitary creature and then assess how you can best protect your chickens from predation.
The native Indian people admired the bravery and ability of this solitary hunter in their native tales and imagery.
Known by the Indian names of uskool, pekane, or wejack, depending on the locale of the tribe, the fisher cat was revered as a good, brave, and usually as a hero.
This article discusses the fisher cat and how it usually attacks backyard chickens. We will then explain the best ways to prevent attacks.
What is a Fisher Cat?
A fisher cat (Martes pennanti) is a member of the weasel family – along with minks, otters, and pine martens.
Despite the name ‘fisher cat,’ it is not related to ‘Fluffy’ or ‘Tom’ – nor does it eat fish! They are generally solitary animals except during mating season.
A Fisher cat can grow to around 2½ feet long and weigh between 4½ – 12lb, so it’s not a huge animal, more like a house cat size. They have a very dense dark brown fur lighter around the head and neck areas. Fur color can vary from one locale to another.
They are bold hunters of many species – chickens are one of those meals. They are intelligent and fearless and have been known to hunt and kill porcupines.
There have been reported occasional rare instances where a fisher cat has entered houses to kill small cats and dogs – these reports remain unconfirmed.
This type of attack would be an exception as fishers usually stay well away from human habitats and open places where they could easily be caught and killed.
What Do Fisher Cats Eat?
Although they are mainly generalist eaters, they will easily hunt down squirrel (favorite), chipmunks, mice and beavers. They will also eat berries and nuts and even carrion if necessary.
Chicken is, of course, on everyone’s shopping list, but attacks on coops are relatively rare. Free-range chickens that are allowed out to woodland edges are likely targets.
To put it in perspective, your flock members are more likely to be killed by raccoons, foxes, and coyotes than fishers.
Where Is A Fisher Cat Usually Found?
They used to be found over much of the US and Canada, but humans hunted them almost to extinction.
With assistance from the Parks and Wildlife services, they have been re-introduced to many of the northern states and parts of Canada.
States like Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Washington, Montana, and Michigan have healthy fisher populations.
They are also found in Quebec.
Their favorite areas are riparian woods and forests, where they can hunt and travel without fear of discovery. They can range for 3-5 miles in their hunting territory. The favorite times of day for activity are dawn and dusk, which makes them crepuscular creatures.
They can climb trees very well but rarely do so, preferring to hunt on the forest floor. They have ankle joints that can rotate almost 180 degrees, so they are one of the few mammals that can come down from a tree head first!
How Do Fisher Cats Normally Attack Chickens?
As we have noted, a well-protected coop is uninviting to a fisher cat.
They will not usually waste time on ‘staking out’ a cell to learn the routine of the occupants (as foxes and raccoons have been known to do); they prefer to hunt by stealth and cunning.
However, if your coop has weak areas in defense, they will be exploited – by all the neighborhood predators.
Windows or vents without sufficient protection are a favorite entry point; fishers are very nimble and climb well. They are small and flexible, so more minor entry points pose no problem.
How to Prevent A Fisher Cat Attack
Be sure to cover your windows and vents with ½ inch hardware mesh and attach carefully to the frame.
Accidentally leaving coop doors or windows open at night can tempt a fisher cat in, too, so be sure to lock up at night. Sometimes if I get distracted locking up at night, I have been known to do three checks of each coop for safety!
High wire fences around the run and coop are a good deterrent, especially if you run a ‘hot wire’ at the top.
Again, you should use hardware mesh for the bottom three feet of the run area.
A fisher cat has sharp teeth and claws, so they have no difficulty chewing or tearing through chicken wire.
Remember: Chicken wire keeps chickens in – it does not keep predators out!
Remove any ‘cover’ within 50 feet or more of your coop. By increasing the visibility around your coop, you make the area less attractive to predators.
Trim any trees or overhanging branches, if you can, to deter climbing.
Motion sensor lights at night will also help deter a wide array of possible predators. No one likes to be spotlighted at night while doing nefarious deeds.
This particular predator loves to hunt at dusk and dawn, so keeping your birds locked up until daylight and having them penned up by evening will also reduce your risks of an attack.
Signs of a Fisher Cat Attack
Since a fisher cat hunts in the morning and evening, these are the hours of highest vulnerability for your chickens. You will be unlikely to catch an attack in progress.
Fishers may kill one or two birds, occasionally more if they try to cache food for the hard times ahead. They tend to bite at the rear end of their prey and pull the intestines out.
Their track is similar to a fox or house cat in having a 4-5 toes imprint and a ‘C’ shaped pad print. Poop looks very similar to a fox, so it can be hard to pinpoint your chicken killer. Wildlife biologists believe that many kills attributed to fishers are in fact fox or coyote.
They are slowly moving nearer to urban areas, so it’s not impossible to see one, but it is a timid and secretive animal typically.
However, if you see any of these signs, be vigilant. Keep your hens locked in their coop during the nighttime and only let them out during daylight hours.
Protecting Your Chickens From Fisher Cats: Summary
In reality, the fisher cat is a highly able hunter, but you are unlikely to be bothered by them attacking your coops and runs.
Chickens, ducks, or other poultry that enjoy rooting through the edges of woodlands are far more likely to become victims of an attack.
I have seen a fisher up close and personal, and I was impressed by the apparent fearlessness of the creature.
It did not back away from the path – I did.
I imagine the encounter was a bit scary for both of us, but fortunately, I have seen no signs of the creature since that day.
It is advised to not tangle with a fisher as they will attack if they feel threatened or cornered and can inflict severe damage on a human.
If you want a dog to guard your livestock, make sure your dog is able enough to withstand an attack from this creature.
Sadly, this little creature gets blamed for attacks that are more likely to be fox or raccoon in nature, but being alert to the possibility of attack is half the battle.
If you have all of your security ramped up to deter raccoons, you will almost surely keep fishers away.
Although some folks have indeed had recorded footage of fishers causing mischief in the run and surrounding areas, these attacks are unusual and infrequent.
Have you dealt with the fisher cat attacking your chickens before? Let us know in the comments section below…
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11 thoughts on “Fisher Cat: How to Protect Your Chickens from Them”
Have a picture of one that killed my chickens and ducks
Recently lost 2 chickens within 3 days…saw this creature last year in my aviary but scared it & it ran out. Saw it again last week in treed area of field. Then this am it tried to get into chicken coop again (but we had reinforced it) & I saw it run up a tree. I have 4 hot wires around bird pen, netting overhead, hardware & chicken wire over no climb field fencing. I have 2 large traps out with cat food & bacon in them. Wildlife didn’t believe me last year when I reported it…hope to get it or at least picture of it SOON!
We are pretty sure we have a Fisher sneaking around our cool and barns..found tracks and my mother n law actually saw something that looked like a Fisher killing a chicken one evening..that happened about a year ago but last night we found tracks and it was also seen when we pulled up a mulberry tree last summer..
My chicken coop is inside a chicken run 14′ by 30′ closed by a fence with a top as well but lost 12 chickens on one night . In the morning I found them all over the ground ! The rooster tried to protect the flock but, was stuck between the gate and the fence . (only 3 left ) . The wife was heart broken ! No racoon or fox could get in that run !this is in southeastern Mass.
I just saw a fisher kill one of my delaware pullets at 2pm in the afternoon! This is the 2nd attack. First time it got several hens. It came back for more but I had my airdale with me on a leash and it ran off. I have premier 1 poultry netting.
Caught a fisher cat in the process of an attack on my last chicken. Thankfully the Chicken knew enough to jump in the pool and swim away until I came to the rescue and charged the creature. It ran away and jumped up a low hanging branch and ran away. I trimmed the bushes but now I keep my BB gun in the living room! Lol
Two weeks ago I caught two fishers in the act of killing and dismembering ten Brahma hens a lot of them weren’t eaten just torn apart blood thirsty little buggers
A fisher got in my locked henhouse and strangled 14 hens and beheaded 4 .A friend told us to put a have a heart cage in the coop with hard,boiled,peeled eggs in it.Next day ,the fisher was in the cage after his meal.I feel for my chickens .
i just found a fisher,something got the better of him it bit him in half
I had a fisher strangle 14 hens and behead 4 and left most of them in a pile.A friend told us to put a have a heart cage in the coop with boiled ,peeled eggs in it.Snap,the next day the 3 ft. long fisher was caught.The coop door was locked with a slight space underneath the bottom.What a slaughter .My poor hens.
I have had a fisher cat kill 26 chickens within weeks of each other. 16 the first time and 10 just yesterday. Have a video of him sticking his head through the coops chicken wire eating one he had killed. My coop is fully enclosed and it still found a way in