Hairy Furbearer Sniffs Out Suet Store

Submitted by Art & Barb Straub

The first week of February finds birds frequenting birdseed feeders with more enthusiasm than for much of the 2023/24 winter. Trampling through the snowy forest, one observes wild turkeys and piles of oak leaf residue pillaged by the hungry birds seeking an acorn or two missed by earlier turkey/squirrel/deer forays. Hillsides facing west on the Ney County Park slopes were veritably crawling with hen turkeys on February 18th, over sixty in number, as they scavenged for the last piece of mast. As you are aware, for the most part, local turkeys travel by sex during wintry months…males with males, females and young hanging together for protection, seeking food, and whatever it is that makes turkeys bunch. Rush River Wayside Park heard the males gobbling, their chortles echoing across the hillsides as they tested their voices for the months to come. Should a female pop into a male group, all manner of fuss, frenzy, and struts will occur. The white female who was kidnapped from a farm off Hwy 169 more than a week ago, has never returned to the farmyard, a victim of misplaced ardor?

The night of February 12th, more than birds had been about, as a singular furbearer was skulking in the area, captured by a faithful trail camera over a bloody hunk of butchered beef suet. The remarkable predator, a FISHER, a relative of weasels, martins, and mink, has never been observed in our area by these writers in our lifetimes. The animals were probably here, but we weren’t. Perhaps that is because they do much of their traveling at night, thus caught by the twenty-four-hour camera. The MNDNR website furnished the following information: Carnivorous by nature (meat eaters,) fishers with their long bushy tails give them the appearance of raccoons. They appear to be quite black and are over two feet long, a male can weigh almost 20 pounds with a discerning characteristic being a white bib on the chest. Their range maybe five to ten square miles. A most intriguing tidbit (MNDNR) is that they have “delayed implantation.” Females become pregnant in the spring, give birth, mate, but don’t give birth until the following spring. We have more to learn about that characteristic.

In that they are carnivorous, fishers eat squirrels, frogs, mice, chipmunks, and almost any carrion (dead creatures.) Their enemies include fur trappers seeking rich and expensive furs, but they have little to fear from other carnivores, as they are fierce fighters.

Why haven’t we encountered FISHERS before, other than those in boats and ashore? They are solitary, preferring the night. We mistake them for other nocturnal mammals such as raccoons, otters, and large muskrats, and we seem to be on the edge of their coniferous and old woodland habitat.

Going back a year ago to 2023, this week we found heaps and heaps of snow banks towering above the level of automobiles,
along country lanes. American robins had been with us the entire winter in huge numbers. Shirley and Mark Katzenmeyer were feeding Trumpeter swans, Canadian geese, sixty feral rock doves, (pigeons,) plus a few early migratory birds, the horned larks. This morning, February 19th, over forty horned larks bobbed about in the Katzenmeyer area, feeding on skimpy grass seeds along gravel roads. Bird migration has begun, but not in earnest, as we have a couple of months to go. Mitigating temperatures are predicted, with all the excitement that goes with the great transition.

Back to the turkeys. In 2023, we recall three hens in our area yielding a dozen poults each. Within a week, nine youngsters had survived and remained throughout the summer of 2023 into an ideal autumn of fun, feeding, and frolic. What if: All sixty of the Ney birds yield seven or eight poults going into autumn of 2024? Do the math! Perhaps for our survival, we need mink, weasels, raptors, coyotes, fox, AND fishers???