While hiking down a 12,000 foot pass in the Sierras last week, we heard a series of high-pitched chirps.
Not bird-like, not exactly squirrel-like, they were coming from this little guy, who apparently was proudly announcing both our presence and his territory.
Pikas are also known as “whistling hares” for their high-pitched alarm calls. They are about the size of a ground squirrel, but with the body type and facial features of a rabbit minus the long ears, which are instead large and round. They also lack the long hind legs of their rabbit cousins.
Pika are found in montane areas in western North America, Europe, and Asia; they occupy boulder fields and rock slides near grassy meadows and other alpine vegetation, typically at altitudes greater than 8000 feet and ranging above the tree line.
Unlike other “high livers” that manage to exist year-round at high altitude by hibernating to escape the harsh winter, Pika remain active beneath the snow pack, moving around the rock crevices to harvest their stored food supplies. They spend their summers producing a couple of litters of offspring and “making hay” — literally, collecting forage, spreading it out on the rocks to dry, and then bundling it up for storage in a rock crevice. Pika selectively harvest their forage at its peak nutritional value, so their hay piles reflect the chronology of plant development in the area.
Pikas, the miniature farmers of the rocky High Sierra.