Collared Pika

Tiny collared pikas live in high alpine areas throughout Alaska and northwest Canada. Though their populations are healthy now, the alpine environment where they thrive is at risk of changing dramatically due to global climate change.

small gray rabbit-like animal sitting on rocks
A pika hanging out in a talus field

NPS Photo / Lian Law

Collared pikas are small mammals within the same order as rabbits and hares. They resemble small rabbits with very short ears and small limbs. Early naturalists called these little animals rock rabbits or conys. Cony is a generic term used to describe many small rock-dwelling mammals including pika and hyrax.

Ecology

Pikas do not hibernate and they do not store much body fat. To maintain their year-round active lifestyle, pikas establish several food caches in their territories. Pikas forage throughout the short subarctic summer and store many different types of vegetation in their caches. Pikas will also forage on lichens and other low-lying vegetation under the snow during winter.

Once thought to be strict vegetarians, researchers working in western Canada found that pikas living on isolated nunataks (isolated islands of rocks in the middle of glaciers) filled their caches with the small songbirds that did not survive migration. Using stable isotope analyses, these researchers found that not only do these pikas cache songbirds, but they eat them as well.

Pikas in Alaska

Pikas are active year-round and live mainly in talus slopes and boulder fields.

Denali

Their sharp "enk" call is a characteristic in the high alpine country in Denali. Pikas are highly territorial. While many pikas may inhabit a talus slope, individuals actively guard their territories and food caches.

small gray rabbit-like animal sitting on rocks

NPS Photo / Jacob W. Frank

Pikas and Climate Change

Pikas live on an ecological edge of survival. Their survival depends on their ability to store food, gather food once their caches are depleted, and endure the long subarctic winter. They are particularly vulnerable to changing weather conditions.

During winter, many pikas may die if there is not enough snow to provide them with insulation from the cold. A late spring, with delayed production of plant material, may mean that pikas don’t have enough time to prepare caches for winter. Changes in weather patterns resulting from global climate change present pikas with another challenge to their survival.