Fisher Tracks

Leonard and I spent the Winter Solstice hiking on Big Valley Mountain, a block fault mountain in Modoc County CA. Our goal was to again find bear and mountain lion tracks. We did see mountain lion tracks, but no bear tracks this trip. Instead we had a bigger surprise – fisher tracks.

Fishers (Martes pennanti) are members of the Weasel Family and larger relatives of the American marten (Martes americana see “American Marten”  09-26-2016). The tracks of fishers and martens are easily confused.  Fishers are found in the forests of Canada and into parts of Northern United States.

Fishers have long, slim bodies, bushy, tapered tails and are primarily dark brown. Solitary and mainly nocturnal, fishers seem to be misnamed because they do not eat fish to any great extent. Rather they are omnivores that will consume flesh (porcupines being a particular favorite), berries, nuts, mushrooms and carrion. The name fisher may come from “fitch”, a type of European polecat which the fisher resembles.

The size of fisher tracks and its stride are extremely variable, but the tracks are larger than marten tracks. Fishers have five toes with unsheathed claws. In snow, fisher tracks are 2 1/2  to 3 inches or larger while in firm mud or wet sand the tracks are smaller. In midwinter the under surface of the marten’s hind feet are so heavily covered with hair that the pads do not show. Fishers do not have this heavy coating of hair and their pads remain visible in their tracks throughout the winter. When in an easy run the tracks occur in 2s with one pair directly behind the other.

In the one picture a coyote print is shown next to a fisher track as a size comparison. The easy run stride is also pictured.

A synonym for M pennanti is Pekania pennanti. The species designation honors Thomas Pennant (1726 to 1798), a Welsh naturalist.  Although it is not a feline, fisher cat is another common name for the fisher.

Fisher tracks will be added to our sighting “wish list” the next time we go to Big Valley Mountain.

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8 Responses to Fisher Tracks

  1. Lin Erickson says:

    PS…after reading Betty’s comment, I wonder if this answers Leonard’s question about the current absence of porcupines here?

    • gingkochris says:

      Porcupines were poisoned, shot and fishers were brought in to control them. However, Leonard and I believe there is something more to their disappearance, perhaps disease. In the last year we only heard of one verified porcupine sighting. That was near Montague.

  2. Lin Erickson says:

    Now that is an exciting find !

  3. Jim G. says:

    Very interesting and new knowledge to me. The Medicine Highlands have fishers and I had an opportunity to observe a “hunting” fisher in an open canopy of mixed conifers with numerous down small logs. I assumed the fisher was searching for small rodents around the logs. I probable had around 10 minutes observation time, the animal was quick and covered around a quarter of an acre, investigating most of the hiding sites suitable for small rodents. Did not capture any prey. Beauty animal a special time.

    • gingkochris says:

      The Medicine Highlands sort of connect to Big Valley Mountain so this fisher may be from there. Leonard and I saw martens near Medicine Lake, but never a fisher. How fortunately you were to be able to watch a fisher hunt.

  4. betty daniels says:

    Chris, I want to comment about the fishers in my area. They are very common about 15 to 20 miles north of us. They are becoming a horrible menace and danger to our critters. They were brought in to control the porcupines in our area, but very, very seldom do you ever see a porcupine. The fishers have cleaned out many turkeys, rabbits, and other small game. You can only trap them in season, and you have to have a licence to do that. The devil that they come in and devour your small game on your property. They are viscous and evil to all the local small farmers and game critters in our area. I know there is a balance of nature, but when one is placed in another area, come on, where is the balance of nature?

    • gingkochris says:

      Fishers were also brought into areas of the West in an attempt to reduce the porcupine population. The “experiment” is overwhelmingly considered a mistake, as is so often the case when humans try to tinker with Nature.

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