Fisher photographed in the Bronx – First ever NYC record of this squirrel and rat predator
By Roland Kays
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences & NC State University
Following the paw prints of their larger carnivore cousins, coyotes, fishers are now returning to New York City. A new photograph confirms that at least one animal has found its way to the Bronx, after a scattering of records across Westchester County in recent years. These oversized weasels (females are 4lbs, males weigh up to 13lbs) are adaptable predators recently found to climb trees to hunt the squirrels that typically overrun suburban areas.
Their long skinny build also makes fishers keen tunnel users, which helps them crawl through drainage culverts to cross under roads and avoid becoming road-kill. Their love of tubes and rodents should also make them keen ratters, although no fisher has ever lived so close to so many rats as our recent Bronx visitor.
Fishers lived in Manhattan when the island was first settled, but were one of the first to disappear due to the high prices fetched by their fur. Trapping pressure only increased over the centuries, leaving a handful of fishers surviving in the Adirondacks and other wilderness areas when trapping was banned in the 1930’s. Their population recovered, slowly at first, but is now booming across the Northeast, even with trapping seasons reinstated. After repopulating wild and rural forests, they began colonizing upstate suburban forests about a decade ago, and seem to be doing quite well there. Camera trap surveys suggest they may be more common suburban Albany than nearby wildlands, possibly because of the abundant squirrel populations. Our GPS tracking study showed how suburban animals use movement corridors to move between favorite hunting grounds, skirting around neighborhoods to find the next small patch of woods.
The recent Bronx fisher was photographed at dawn by Derek Lenart, a NYC Police officer who works the night shift. He saw it cross the road in front of him and run underneath parked cars and along the sidewalk on Hennessey Place, just south of Bronx Community College, and three blocks east of the Harlem River. The fisher then turned up a driveway, ran into a back yard and out of sight.
Although they can be active during the day in wild areas, fishers living near people are nocturnal. This fisher was probably looking for a place to hide for the day, either down a hole or up a big tree. Judging from the picture this a male fisher, likely a dispersing animal looking for a female and a new place to settle down. If he can find a place to sleep and something to eat he might stick around. Bronx squirrels would make good fisher prey, but things could get really interesting if fishers start hunting rats in New York.
Officer Lenart says he sees rats everywhere on his nightly patrols, some places in huge numbers. The other animals he sees at night – raccoons, possums and skunks -are not rat predators. Coyotes can certainly dispatch a rat, but their large size makes it difficult for them to move around the metro area outside of parkland, and Officer Lenart has never seen one in his five years working the night shift in the Bronx. No predator keeps a lower profile than fishers; if they can use their tunnel-running to hunt rats, and tree-climbing to get squirrels, they could make a nice living in New York City. Fishers pose little threat to people. Although they are rumored to kill cats, there is little evidence to support this idea.
But lets not get ahead of ourselves here – one brief glimpse of one male fisher in the Bronx does not mean the end of your local rat problem. It does, however, put an exclamation point on the recovery of fishers in the region, and highlights the adaptability of wildlife if given a chance.
For more on this story check out the video below where I discuss the Bronx fisher with Brian Malow.