Fisher Cat Screech: Real or Urban Legend?

Adult male fishers weigh 8-13 pounds.
Adult male fishers weigh 8-13 pounds.

Although it is frequently referred to as the “fisher cat,” the fisher (Martes pennanti) is actually a medium-sized (4-13 lbs) member of the weasel family.  Here in New England I frequently hear people talk about hearing an eerie screeching in the night, which they attribute to the fisher.  The stories go that the fisher makes this terrible high-pitched screaming, which sounds like a woman being murdered, either when they are mating or when they are attacking another animal.  The internet is also rife with postings and stories on the “fisher cat screech” and YouTube videos of purported fisher screams.

However, when I researched fisher ecology and behavior, I was unable to find any reference to fishers making any loud screams or screeches except for one old reference from a fur farm.  Laberee (1941) recounted the following description of a fisher pair mating:  “Soon the love-making began.  And if there was anyone within a mile of us who did not think that some large animal was being tortured to death, that person must have been deaf.  Such noise!  Such yowls!  Such howling!  No thousand cats caterwauling on a backyard fence at midnight ever could make such noise.   But that was before copulation began. Once the pair mated there was not a sound.  And the moment the mating was over, the female insisted on getting back to her pen immediately…  The mating lasted from 10:17 A.M. until 4:27 P.M., six hours and ten minutes.  The next day she mated again for four hours and twenty-five minutes.”

I even exchanged emails with the author of one book on fishers, Roger Powell.  He told me that to his knowledge, fishers do not make an eerie screaming sound.  The only vocalizations that fishers generally make are quiet chuckles and occasional hisses or growls.  However, he did add a caveat to his answer that wild animals can and do surprise us and wild critters like fishers can be good at keeping their secrets.

Having listened to many supposed fisher screams on the internet, I think that people most frequently confuse the calls of the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) for the screams of the fisher.  For some good examples of the various fox calls, check out this video.

Here is another video with actual footage of the foxes making the various calls.

So the next time that someone tells you that they’re sure their missing cat was killed by a fisher because they heard one screeching in the night, try to reassure them that it was probably just a fox and they should definitely keep searching for their lost cat.  This is not to say that fishers are not a potential danger to a lost or outdoor-access cat, but there are many other more likely causes for a cat to go missing.

Since I first published this article in 2011, several people have sent me interesting videos that I would like to share.  Two of these videos do indeed show a fisher making a screeching noise.  In both cases, the fisher appears to feel threatened, so I don’t know if this would be the same type of vocalization that fishers would make for other reasons.  Most non-social animals only tend to vocalize loudly to attract mates during the breeding season or to warn con-specifics away from their territory.   I would be interested to hear from anyone who has heard a fisher whether this is the type of sound that they heard.  Skip ahead to 1:30 to hear the fisher in the first video.

Of all the videos that I received, this is the only one that I’m pretty confident is not a fox and I don’t know what it could be.  Is this the legendary fisher cat screech or does anyone recognize this as some other animal?

One assertion of the fisher cat screech that I believe is false is that the fisher would make this call when attacking another animal. Prior to making a kill, the last thing a predator wants to do is alert the prey that it is being stalked, and unless an animal lives in a pack and wants to attract its pack-mates, it is generally not in their best interest to make a lot of loud noises that might attract other potential predators to a recent kill.  Here is a video of a fisher attacking a gray fox.  Note that the fisher is quite silent during the attack while the poor fox is very vocal.  This is a graphic video and I would not suggest watching it if you are concerned that your missing cat or dog was attacked by a fisher.

As always, I am still very much interested in receiving links to any videos that actually show a fisher vocalizing in some way.

For more accounts and possible videos of fisher vocalizations, check out Fisher Cat Screech.

Literature Researched

Buskirk, Steven W., Alton S. Harestad, Martin G. Raphael, and Roger A. Powell, editors.  1994.  Martens, Sables, and Fishers: Biology and Conservation (Comstock Book)Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Harrison, Daniel J., Angela K. Fuller and Gilbert Proulx.  2004.  Martens and Fishers (Martes) in Human-Altered Environments: An International Perspective. New York, NY: Springer Science+Business Media, Inc.

Kelly, George M.  1977.  Fisher (Martes pennanti) Biology in the White Mountain National Forest and Adjacent Areas.  University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  Ph.D. Dissertation.

Labaree, E.E.  1941.  Breeding and Reproduction in Fur Bearing Animals.  Fur Trade Journal of Canada. Toronto.

Powell, Roger A.  1993.  The Fisher: Life History, Ecology, and Behavior. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.  (If you only read one book, I would suggest this one.)

Updated: 3/28/14

 

26 thoughts on “Fisher Cat Screech: Real or Urban Legend?”

  1. I found the sound video interesting. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard some of those noises before. I’ve definitely seen foxes around here! Some of their calls almost sound like birds.

    1. Daev, I did some digging last fall to find the sound of a fisher.

      I too thought those night time screams were fisher related, but after finding the first video below with with clear sound AND video, I can say MOST of the Youtube clips attributed to fishers are actually fox. None of the fisher Youtube video clips had any useful audio & video of fishers making any sounds.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0cPg7_nyoBc
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zk1mAd77Hr4&feature=related
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hE3PlNW7oN8&feature=related

      This one labeled Fisher-Cat is clearly a fox.
      http://soundbible.com/1075-Fisher-Cat.html

      This last one has fox vocalizations in different situations.
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxLHUxzEoRU&feature=related

      For more authoritative resource within the range of the fisher…
      http://www.nhnature.org/fisher.html

  2. Hi there- I can say without a doubt that fishers make the creepiest noise ever- I believe it to be their mating call- There was a fisher sighted by a dumpster of garbage in my yard one year- it was spring/early summer , and for the next few weeks every night my neighbors and I heard their calls late at night and into the early morning in the brush beyond our yard, the first night we were awoken to the screams they seemed right in our drive way, a cackling hiss leading up to a blood curdling scream tapered out to a screech that faded into the night only to be repeated with more fury the next one- My neighbor called police. She thought a young child was being attacked outside. They make the hair on your neck stand up-There are many tones and depths to this cry, and the cry in itself can change tempo mid scream.Haunting to say the least. Its a real mournful murderous sound.For weeks , well OK months after the fishers retreated into deeper woods I would hear the chirp of a bird and freeze in horror as I thought for a split second it was the fisher returned. I have frequently scoured online for a sound clip of that noise- and never not once found one that compares- Most (if not all) of the clips on YouTube are fox barks, rabbit attacks or some chick doing an impression of it- I wish I had the hindsight to get a recording myself, but it was all I could do to close my window and hide under the covers!

  3. I live in Sherman ct and we can hear a fisher screeching at about 3 am at least once a week. They do make a noise that sounds like a person screaming. It is often only about 10 yards behind our house so we get a very clear and close up sound.

  4. I can attest that the fisher call is very real, and absolutely blood-curdling. I cannot find a recording of it online. As previous commenters have noted, the videos online are all of other creatures, mostly foxes.

    I was staying with my mother in Massachusetts (must have been around 2006 or 2007), up late one night (around 1 or 2 AM), sitting on the front porch with my dog, when we both heard the most terrible screaming coming from down the street. It was high-pitched, long & drawn-out, and as Jennifer described, eerily changed in quality and tempo as it progressed. It was nothing like the short screeches of foxes which are well attested on Youtube. The scream sounds human, as people have noted–like either a baby or a woman being murdered and crying out in dire agony. After it was repeated a few times, it was so unnatural and loud, that I was honestly scared for a while that it was a DEMON of some kind.

    After the noise continued I worked up some courage and took my dog down the street to investigate, past a few neighbor’s houses, where the sound was coming from. I could see 2 sets of eyes glinting high up in some trees close to the road. They were chasing each other around but paused to look at us at intervals. At that point I realized it was a wild animal but had never heard of fishers. Unfortunately this was before I had a smart phone (before smartphones really), so I could not take a video or sound recording of it.

    After searching online. I realized it must be fishers mating or fighting. I wish I could have somehow gotten some evidence, as I realize now the topic is so hotly debated! Besides, the chilling scream is really one of a kind. I think it’s really funny that the fisher “experts” don’t even realize they scream like this. Perhaps I’ll get another chance to record them during a subsequent visit (I think it was in the spring…)

  5. I live in rural Maine in the foothills of the Western Mountains and I just heard one last night that woke me up around 2:00 am. I found the same video K Man shared and that’s very close to what I heard. It’s NOT the same as a fox call, and yes, a lot of YouTube videos attributed to fishers sound like they’re probably foxes. But what I heard was not short, staccato screechy barks/howls… it was a whole RANGE of screeches, screams, cries, and moans, varying in tempo and intensity. At first it just sounded like a baby animal crying out in distress, looking for its mother, but then it changed into a more intense, rapid screeching scream that sounded like someone being murdered and dragged off through the woods!

    Here’s a news article of a man who caught one attacking his dog and he attests to the eerie scream as well:
    http://boston.cbslocal.com/2013/01/25/man-takes-on-fisher-cat-that-attacked-puppy-in-nh/

  6. Anybody that says Fishers dont make noise,is very mistaken.We had one move onto the property this spring.I will tell you it makes a god awful noise.I have heard it only at might,and it wake you from a sound sleep,and put your hair on end.You would think somebody is being killed from the screeching sound it makes.I dont know why it decides to make itself known to everything within eardhot,but it does just that.It has also cleaned out every squirrel on the property.

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  9. I heard one in the night once, it scared my best friend (he lives next door) and his family so much they came over and we all slept together for the next few weeks. I do see foxes, but a loud kirtan usually scares them off. I also heard a bobcat in my neighborhood (at night) making a whining noise. However, I scared it off too, simply saying “SHUT UP!!”

  10. Rabbid Plissken

    I’ve heard a real eery sound in the woods one time. None of the sounds here sound nearly the same. It sound like a blood curdling scream from a woman being attacked. Almost sounded like it was saying NOOOOOO NO NO NO NOOOOOOO. Weird? Yes. Almost called the cops one time but this thing had a set of lungs even a pro athlete couldn’t keep up with. My assumption was a fisher in heat or fighting, but wasn’t sure. Could explain the Jersey Devil legendary screeching sound as well.

  11. The video of the woods and the neighbor hunting on his porch… I think the screams are an electronic game call like a foxpro- recording imitating an injured animal like a rabbit to draw game. The sound repeats itself like it’s on a loop.

      1. My dog ran one up a tree today and it was definitely screeching. Almost sounded like an eagle screech. I was 10 feet away from it.

  12. I hate to say I don’t have any video proof, just my own experience. I woke up at 4am hearing the same screeching noise as in the video, at first I thought it was a Blue Heron, but realized it couldn’t be because it’s mid January. It was repetitive with the same screeching noise as above. I threw on my coat and went on the back deck and at the edge of the creek, saw a fast dark brown rodent-like animal that was long and low to the ground with a long tail run super quickly away through the snow, while still making that noise. The noise faded away as it ran. It was a full moon so I actually saw this quite clearly. I’m certain it was a fisher. This was a rural area south of Ottawa, Canada where we’ve had known fisher sightings.

  13. The purported fisher screaming in the back yard is without question a predator call! I have the EXACT same one on my electronic caller. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

    1. Thanks for sharing. This video is actually shown and discussed in my article. It does clearly show that fishers are capable of vocalizing loudly. However, this fisher and one in another video seem to be vocalizing in response to being threatened. This leaves me to wonder whether or not this is the sound that people speak of when they refer to the fisher cat screech?

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