Pikas

Pika on Rock
Pika on a rock.

NPS/Ann Schonlau

 

The pika (Ochotona princeps) is an indicator species for the potential effects of climate change. Pikas are abundant in Rocky Mountain National Park, but concerns exist that their sensitivity to summer heat and particularly the lack of snowfall for insulation in the winter may result in declining numbers. Although pikas are not currently threatened or endangered, they are being monitored to ascertain changes in their locations in the park.

 
Pika calls from a rock
Pikas are more easily heard than seen.

NPS

Number in Rocky Mountain National Park

Pikas are abundant in the park at elevations generally above treeline. Rocky Mountain National Park is unique in that two different subspecies — northern and southern — meet in this park and interbreed in some areas. Hotter temperatures at lower elevations curtail the movement of pikas between populations and reduce the opportunity for genetic mixing.

Where to See

Pikas live in and around talus slopes and in mountain meadows. Pikas may be found in areas on the tundra such as Rainbow Curve, Rock Cut, and Tundra Communities Trail. They are frequently seen along the trail to Lake Helene, near Timberline Falls, and after the Emerald Lake Overlook on the Flattop Mountain Trail.

 
Pika with vegetation in its mouth
Pikas are busy farmers as they collect and harvest their winter food cache.

NPS/Ann Schonlau

 
Pika at Rock Cut
Pika survival depends on the climate.

NPS/Jim Ecklund

Habitat

  • Food gathered throughout the summer and “haystacks” built and defended for winter food.
  • Eat grasses, sedges, lichen, and conifer twigs
  • Predators are coyotes, martens, weasels, and hawks

Management Concerns

  • Pikas are vulnerable to loss of habitat due to climate change. Although declines have been rare in Rocky Mountain National Park to date, the possibility of extirpation exists.
  • In Rocky Mountain National Park, factors related to cold stress, and especially less snow cover, appear to be the greatest threat to pikas.
  • Genetic diversity, occupancy, and distribution are relatively high in the park suggesting resiliency into the future with adaptive management.

Research

Pikas at Rocky Mountain National Park have been studied extensively as part of the National Park Service's multi-park Pikas in Peril project, a study focusing on the long-term survival of this species in a changing climate. Today, park pikas are monitored in collaboration with the Front Range Pika Project, a citizen-science effort coordinated by researchers at the Denver Zoo, Rocky Mountain Wild, and the University of Colorado-Boulder. Citizen scientists visit areas with appropriate habitat to look for pika, or signs of pika, to help us better understand the distribution of pikas throughout the park. More information on the Front Range Pika Project can be found here: www.pikapartners.org/

 

Last updated: April 3, 2019

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1000 US Hwy 36
Estes Park, CO 80517

Phone:

(970) 586-1206
Through winter, the Information Office is open 8:00 am–4:30 pm Mon–Fri. Recorded Trail Ridge Road status: (970) 586-1222.

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