Mammal Species of the World's Boreal Forests


Ochotona princeps
American Pika


Distinguishing Features - Length: up to 20 cm. Overall colouration: grayish-buff or brownish with a mixture of black resulting in a salt-and-pepper appearance; grayish underneath; dusky-coloured ears, edged in white; mouth, small, harelipped. Body; small, stocky, tailless.

American Pika Habitat

Rocky eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountain Range of North America where it meets the boreal forest.


Herbivore; grasses and sedges, herbs and tender flowering plants.


Pikas are territorial, mainly for two reasons: a short supply of good nesting sites, and the need to stock up a winter's supply of food.

American pikas are active outside their dens about 30% of daylight hours. Much of this time is devoted to feeding, haying, surveilance and territory defense. Adults establish and defend independent territories and territories of males tend to be adjacent to females. Pikas use two characteristic vocalizations, the short call and the song. The short call is given as an alarm call to alert others of avain predators and as a territory defense call. The song is given primarily by males during the breeding season, but both males and females may sing during the autumn.

About Pikas in General

Pikas aren't nearly as familiar as their relatives. This is largely because they're not as frequently seen. Pikas are much smaller than their relatives, hares and rabbits; they're generally 20 cm long or shorter; they do not have long "bunny" ears, and generally live in remote and often rugged areas.

Pikas have a short, blunt head with small, rounded ears. The nostrils can be completely closed. Unlike rabbits and hares that have very short tails, pikas have no visible tails at all. The legs are short. Each foot bears five toes and is heavily furred beneath. Male and female pikas are equal in size and are difficult to tell apart. The fur is usually grayish brown, usually darker above; some may be reddish.

Alpine Pika Pikas inhabit open areas, including grasslands, northern tundra, and mountain slopes to more than 19,000 feet above sea level, nearly as high as North America's highest mountain.

All but two species of pikas are native to Eurasia. The Daurian and steppe, or little, pika inhabit steppe grasslands, where they dig burrows. The Alpine Pika Ochotona alpina (pictured right) is found in the eastern regions of Siberia. Most Old World pikas are generally found among broken rocks or talus - the rock debris that lies strewn about mountain slopes. When threatened by predators, they simply scamper into a crevice or underneath a rock. Weasels are among the most dangerous pika predators, since they can follow their prey into tiny crevices. Some populations inhabit forests, where they live under tree stumps or fallen logs. Rock-dwelling pikas generally live in pairs or small family groups.

The two North American pikas are also rock dwellers. They range up to more than 13,000 feet. North American pikas occupy only western mountains. Eurasian steppe pikas are sometimes found in large groups either representing colonies or clusters of families and individuals. Eurasian rock-dwelling pikas are generally found in pairs or small family groups. But North American pikas are generally solitary, each animal staking out an area of talus and an adjacent patch of vegetation.

In summer and early fall, pikas gather grasses, sedges, and a variety of other plants. They may even climb trees, venturing out onto limbs to cut twigs. Pikas are famous for their habit of constructing haypiles for use as winter food. They place some of the plants they gather in the sun, where it is dried, or "cured." (Plants containing too much moisture might rot.) However, pikas don't just lay around all winter snacking on sun-dried plants. Rather, their summer food reserves are probably just a supplement to help them survive lean times. A subspecies, or variety, of Royle's pika doesn't store food at all. It inhabits an area of Central Asia where its food supply is not buried under winter snow.

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