American Pikas + Caring for the Natural World

Mar 14, 2022
Outreach manager Jana Hemphill loves pikas and she's ready to tell you all about it! It's also one of the reasons that she cares for the natural world.

By Jana Hemphill

There are so many wild creatures that I love—great blue herons, hummingbirds, foxes, moose, mountain goats, swallowtail butterflies… the list goes on! But none of these compare to my love for the American pika. And why do I love the American pika so much? Let me count the ways:

  1. That chirp! Have you heard an American pika chirp?!? Oh my, it melts my heart. Used as a warning call for other pikas in their colony, this chirp may sound cute, but is an important defense against predators. They also make calls in order to defend their territory and to attract mates.
  2. Their energy. Run, run, run, hide. Run, run, run, hide. American pikas have so much energy! The season of abundance is short in their high alpine environment, and pikas take full advantage of the summer months. They collect grasses and flowers, dry them in the sun, then store this food in mounds beneath boulders for the lean winter months. Once winter does come, pikas don’t hibernate, but usually hang out in their dens, although they do occasionally venture out in good weather.
    I mean, just look at those cute ears! Photo: Andrew Goldstein.
    I mean, just look at those cute ears! Photo: Andrew Goldstein.
  3. So freakin’ cute! Their thick fuzzy coat of gray-brown hair, a non-existent tail, those adorable little rounded ears! I just find pikas to be ridiculously cute. And before you start saying “eww” and asking why I love a rodent so much, take note: American pikas are part of the rabbit order and are not a rodent (I admit, though, I love certain rodents like beavers).
  4. They have a sweet home. How can I not love a creature that spends its entire life in my favorite place on earth?!? The majority of pikas live above treeline in the high alpine, throughout the American West and western Canada. You can typically spot them in the mountains in rocky locations like talus fields.
  5. They make me happy. Like most things we love, I love pikas simply because they make me happy. While on a month-long backpack in Colorado, seeing pikas almost every day, I never tired of seeing them and squealing with delight when I heard a pika chirp. Every time I hear one in Oregon, my heart swells. I gain so much happiness from such a small little creature.


For me, pikas are just one aspect of my love for the natural world. Small things like pikas and delicate mariposa lilies, plus large things like snow-capped mountains and wide open vistas combine to make me care deeply for the natural world. It's why I want to share this love with others (and maybe nerd out a bit too much). It's why I've made it my life's work to protect and care for the natural world. What makes you love and care about the natural world?

Learn more about American pikas and how their story as a climate icon is changing based on recent research—join the Land Trust for our March 30th Nature Night with Dr. Matt Shinderman on American Pikas + Climate Change. Registration is free and required to receive the Zoom link.

 

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Other Central Oregon wildlife to love: