Pika: A small, haystack building. rabbit

by Dave Hanks

A Pika (also known as a Cony) could be mistaken for a large mouse or a baby rabbit. Actually it is a rabbit - a small short-eared one – a rock rabbit. These are fascinating little “guys”. They live on talus slopes, rocky banks, or steep boulder strewn hillsides at elevations between 8,000 to 13,500 feet. This very vocal rodent makes small squeaky noises, or noises that sound like a bleat of a goat, as they scurry over their rocky habitat.

The Pika is a small (6 3/8”) mammal that has dug its den deep inside the rocks. It mates in early spring and has 2 to 6 offspring per litter and usually has two litters a year. It doesn’t hibernate. Therefore, the gathering of a supply of winter food is necessary. The greenery in close proximity to the den is either eaten on the spot or gathered and spread on the rocks to dry. Like a farmer, the dried vegetation is gathered into the den and piled in little haystacks. These haystacks may have as much as a bushel of grasses, mosses, herbs, etc. stored in them.

Much time is spent sunning on a favorite rock which also serves as a lookout for their main predator – the Short-tailed Weasel (Ermine). The weasel’s slender body allows it to follow into the Pika’s tunnels. It has been observed that Pikas will take turns leading a weasel on a chase. When one starts to tire, another will cross between chaser and fleer. This is done until the predator decides to hunt for easier prey.

These little rock rabbits are extremely cute and lovable. We have seen them in the Colorado Rockies, Yellowstone Park, Central Idaho, Craters of the Moon, and Alaska to name a few sites. On a June trip to Denali Park, my wife and I had driven into the park as far as vehicles are permitted. We started hiking and I proposed to “go this way, we might see a Pika”. Within 15 yards on the trail – sure enough, they were all around us – how exciting!

Wherever there are high elevation talus slopes with vegetation close by, you have a good chance to find them. Just look very carefully and listen – perhaps you’ll get lucky.

(Amid the lichen covered rocks)