Pika, Courtesy Pixabay, Makieni77 Contributor
American Pika
Courtesy Pixabay, Makieni77 Contributor
As I hike the high country, there is a non-bird call that always brightens my way. A mini rabbit, or rock rabbit in Jack vernacular, the pika, has been declared North America’s cutest mammal. I won’t argue with this declaration, unless it’s compared to my grandkids.

On a scramble up two gnarly peaks above Alta Ski Resort a few weeks ago, my spirits went sky high with an abundance of pika busily gathering hay for their winter larder. Their Ehhhhh! Notes surrounded us, tiny furry forms darting in and out of boulder fields while we made our way to the summits.

This was especially heartening given the warming trends, which push these little spirits beyond their limits of heat tolerance in too many locations. Pikas have disappeared from more than one-third of their previously known habitat in Oregon and Nevada. Despite this, the American pika has not been listed under the Endangered Species Act. The pika can overheat and die within 6 hours when exposed to temperatures as mild as 78 degrees Fahrenheit.

American pikas are famously vocal. They chirp, sing, and scream in an effort to protect their territory. They use their signature call to alert others in the colony of an approaching predator, to establish boundaries, and in some cases, to attract mates.

Pikas spend a great deal of time gathering vegetation for winter which they cure on rocks to prevent molding, then store their piles under rocks for safekeeping, occasionally moving them so they don't get rained on. Haystacks, as they're called, weigh a whopping 61 pounds on average. The timing of haying seems to correlate to the amount of precipitation from the previous winter. They appear to assess the nutritional value of available food and harvest accordingly. Pikas select plants that have the higher caloric, protein, lipid, and water content. They also enjoy their fecal pellets, which have more energy value than stored plant food, by consuming them directly or store for a later sweet treat.
Cedar Breaks National monument in southern Utah has adopted the pika as its token mammal. You can get your own stuffy who has a remarkable resemblance to the real deal. Your donation will help the Monument with its field research on the pika and other park critters.

Considering pika are mostly found in alpine and subalpine environments with cool temperatures and deep snow, I was shocked to find them occurring at Craters of the Moon NM in Idaho averaging 6000’ elevation. Summer temperatures at the Monument can soar to 170 degrees on the black rock surface, which would fry a pica in short order. Yet, here they are, finding relief in lava tubes and deep crevasses. Unlike their diurnal alpine cousins, they are primarily crepuscular- active early morning- late evening.

The American pika can be found throughout the mountains of western North America, from Canada to New Mexico. Of the 30 global species, only two inhabit North America, which includes the collared pika found in Alaska and Canada.

Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon Society, and I’m wild about Utah and its rock rabbits!

Image: Courtesy Pixabay, https://pixabay.com/photos/pika-animal-wildlife-nature-cute-5326942/
Audio: Courtesy & ©
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle W Bingham, Webmaster, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

Jack Greene’s Postings on Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/author/jack/

Cane, Jim, Voice: Dick Hurren, Pikas, Our First Haymakers Wild About Utah, October 28, 2008, https://wildaboututah.org/pikas-our-first-haymakers/

A Mendon Bear Story

A Mendon Bear Story: Grizzly Bear, Courtesy Pixabay, Angela AMBQuinn, Contributor
Grizzly Bear
Courtesy Pixabay
Angela AMBQuinn, Contributor
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, the puppet show is about to begin!

It was Pioneer Day in Mendon, and the puppeteer’s loud cry brought the little kids running to the puppet theater on the town square. They settled down on the grass in a hushed silence as the narrator began:

This is a true story. It took place in early pioneer days in Mendon about 130 years ago.

And now introducing: the bravest man in Mendon, Tom Graham. He was so brave he would grab a rattlesnake by the neck and spit tobacco juice right down its throat.

A hidden water pistol shot a stream of water out into the audience, which caused some oohs and ahhs in the front row.

The Tom Graham puppet took a bow and disappeared

And now introducing: the biggest and baddest bear in Cache Valley at the time, The Big Slough Grizzly!

The puppeteers booed loudly. If there was any doubt that the bear puppet was the villain in the story, these doubts soon disappeared.

A small wooly lamb popped up and the bear pounced on it. Baaaaa went the lamb as it sank out of sight. The same thing happened to a calf and a small pink pig.

It was time for the hero, Tom Graham to take action.

Tom and another puppet popped up. Let’s go find that bad bear, Tom said.

They bobbed across the stage in single file, looking at the ground. Then they saw a bear paw print and they jerked back.

It’s 8 inches wide! And 12 inches long!! Not counting the claw!!!

We need to go get help, they said as they ran off the stage

In the meantime, Tom went down to the watery sloughs below Mendon to get some firewood. Bad luck. He ran right into the Big Slough Grizzly. The bear took a mighty swing at Tom and knocked his head right off his shoulders!

Now the Tom puppet was made out of a leg of panty hose. So Tom’s long neck stretched out a good two feet as his head flew out over the audience before snapping back and disappearing.

This caused quite a sensation in the audience. In fact, I used to judge the success of each show by how high the kids came off their seats.

But the story wasn’t over. After Tom lost his head, every man in Mendon picked up his rifle and headed for the slough. They found the bear’s den. Two very brave men stepped into the entrance and got a couple shots off. The bear did not come out.

Another man pushed his old flea bitten mare up to the entrance. This brought the bear out. The men opened fire.

It got really noisy as two young boys in the puppet theatre shot off their cap pistols like mad. The Big Slough Grizzly keeled over and sank out of sight. That was the end of the story.

This is Mary Heers, puppeteer (now retired), bringing you this Pioneer Day true bear story for Wild About Utah.


Photos: Courtesy Pixabay, Angela-AMBQUINN, Photographer, https://pixabay.com/photos/bear-grizzly-bear-grizzly-7860673/
Featured Audio: Wagner Hoedown, Courtesy & © Sons of the Pioneers, https://sonsofthepioneers.org/
Text: Mary Heers, https://cca.usu.edu/files/awards/art-and-mary-heers-citation.pdf
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Mary Heers’ Postings

Grizzly Bear, FWS Focus, US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Department of the Interior, https://www.fws.gov/species/grizzly-bear-ursus-arctos-horribilis

Mendon City, UT, Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/mendoncity
Website: mendoncity.org

Mendon City Pioneer Day Celebration, Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100066990000950
In the Shade of the Mountains, Histories of Mendon and Petersboro, Exemplar Press, Watkins Printing, Logan, Dec 2011, https://library.mendoncity.org/
Call Number 979.212 MENDON

Escape: Wildlife vs. Traffic

Escape: Wildlife vs. Traffic--Right of Way Escape Ramp Near Santaquin, UT Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer
Right of Way Escape Ramp
Near Santaquin, UT
Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer

Escape: Wildlife vs. Traffic--Safety Side, Corner Escape Ramp Near Santaquin WMA Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer Safety Side, Corner Escape Ramp
Near Santaquin WMA
Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer

Escape: Wildlife vs. Traffic--One-way, Metal Gate Near Santaquin WMA Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer One-way, Metal Gate
Near Santaquin WMA
Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer

Escape: Wildlife vs. Traffic--Climbing Side, Corner Escape Ramp Near Santaquin WMA Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer Climbing Side, Corner Escape Ramp
Near Santaquin WMA
Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer

Underpass and Jump Ramp Near Santaquin WMA Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer Underpass and Jump Ramp
Near Santaquin WMA
Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer

Rural Road Leading to Santaquin Wildlife Management Area Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer Rural Road Leading to Santaquin
Wildlife Management Area
Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer

Deer and other wildlife have been migrating across our state much longer than humans. When people drove horse-drawn wagons and slower vehicles, wildlife could easily pass without a problem. However, with the introduction of fenced highways and their increased speed and traffic, problems quickly arose. In this case, the problem is mostly with mule deer, because they comprise 90% of the animals migrating in Utah. Robert Frost wrote that “Good fences make good neighbors.” But neighbors need to cooperate to maintain a fence, and even with fences in place, what if the neighbors are animals? The problem is how to keep migrating deer from jumping fences and causing accidents.

Animal/vehicle encounters cause over 5,000 animal deaths in Utah each year. Beyond the loss of life, it is also an economic problem, not only for wildlife management but also for vehicle owners. Some estimate the deer are worth more than $2,500 each. Joshua Coursey wrote in the Deseret News, that the “estimated cost of collisions with mule deer in Utah reached close to $50 million in 2021.” That’s why the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) and the Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) have worked for decades to reduce wildlife/vehicle encounters. As noted, fencing alone does not work; consequently, highway managers have had to find ways to get trapped deer across and away from fenced roads.

When USU researchers studied escape mechanisms in Sardine canyon, they found earthen escape mounds were superior to one-way, metal gates. Climbing a hill is more natural to deer than pushing through a metal gate. These mounds enable a one-way jump to safety. However, escape alone does not solve the driving force of migration.

A more effective way to handle migrating animals is to guide them above or below the road. UDOT explains: “Studies have shown there is a 90% reduction in wildlife/vehicle collisions when there is a crossing structure and fence in the area.” Since 1975, when UDOT built its first wildlife overpass near Beaver, Utah, deer, moose and elk, along with bear and mountain lions have begun to use wildlife underpasses and overpasses. More recently, a larger overpass was built in Parley’s Canyon on I-80. Videos show a variety of animals who successfully traverse that overpass.

But escape ramps and overpasses aren’t the only tools available. Passage is also possible using creek beds or culverts crossing under roads. Tall fences are effective in guiding animals toward structures and preventing roadway access. Then, to encourage faster adoption, contractors have found they can walk a herd of cattle through the structure, overpowering human scents

When on I-15, I-80, I-70, or in our canyons, watch for overpasses, underpasses, one-way gates and exit ramps. They demonstrate a few ways the DWR and UDOT are working together to preserve human and animal lives.

This is Lyle Bingham, and I’m Wild About Utah and our 15 years on Utah Public Radio.

Videos: Utah Division of Wildlife Resources https://wildlife.utah.gov
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio upr.org
Text: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Lyle Bingham’ Wild About Utah Postings

USU-Connected Researchers Mitigating Wildlife Migration Issues:
John Bissonette, Patricia Cramer and Mary Hammer

Bissonette, J. A. and M. Hammer. 2000. Effectiveness or earthen return ramps in reducing big game highway mortality in Utah. UTCFWRU Report Series 2000 (1): 1-29.https://escholarship.org/content/qt2f1080nm/qt2f1080nm.pdf

Buford, Daniel, Cramer, Patricia, and Simpson, Nova, Integrating Wildlife Connectivity and Safety Concerns into Transportation Planning Processes, Federal Highway Administration, US Department of Transportation, Winter 2023, https://highways.dot.gov/public-roads/winter-2023/04

Wildlife Connectivity Institute, https://www.wildlifeconnectivity.org/

“A dynamic part of a National Cooperative Highway Research Program sponsored research project titled; ‘Evaluation of the Use and Effectiveness of Wildlife Crossings.'”, https://www.wildlifeandroads.org/

Muffoletto, Mary-Ann, USU Ecologist [Patricia Cramer] Honored for Wildlife Highway Crossing Research, Utah State Today, Utah State University, April 16, 2015, https://www.usu.edu/today/story/usu-ecologist-honored-for-wildlife-highway-crossing-research

Muffoletto, Mary-Ann, USU Ecologist Leading Efforts to Stop Wildlife-Vehicle Collisions, Utah State Today, Utah State University, September 2, 2010, https://www.usu.edu/today/story/usu-ecologist-leading-efforts-to-stop-wildlife-vehicle-collisions

DWR: “It’s the video seen around the world! This compilation of footage shows various animals using the wildlife crossing constructed in 2018 over Interstate 80 near Parleys Summit. What’s especially notable with this crossing is how many animals are already using it; usually it takes several years for wildlife crossings to become widely used.

This video went viral near the end of 2020, and was celebrated as great progress in the problem of wildlife-vehicle collisions. Special thanks to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Department of Transportation and Summit County for the footage.” https://wildlifemigration.utah.gov/stories/parleys-summit-wildlife-crossing/

UDOT: Baker Canyon Wildlife Crossing Installation

DWR: “Utah’s highways are vital to the health of the state. They can present a significant barrier for wildlife migration. In order to prevent automobile/wildlife collisions and to increase habitat availability for animals, Wildlife biologists and the Utah Department of Transportation have designed and installed several overpasses and underpasses to allow wild animals to safely cross the highway.”

Green, Ashley, Highway wildlife crossings, Connections between habitats are important for wildlife. Wildlife Blog, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Department of Natural Resources, https://wildlife.utah.gov/news/wildlife-blog/675-highway-wildlife-crossings.html

Kenley Fry, Rachel, Safe passage: Sardine Canyon wildlife crossings improved, The Herald Journal, October 21, 2012 Updated May 4, 2015 https://www.hjnews.com/allaccess/safe-passage-sardine-canyon-wildlife-crossings-improved/article_2d38f7f4-1b1d-11e2-a588-0019bb2963f4.html

Mapping Migration Corridors, Wildlife Migration, Utah Wildlife Migration Initiative, Division of Wildlife Resources, Department of Natural Resources, State of Utah, https://wildlifemigration.utah.gov/land-animals/corridors/

Mountain Lions Are Keystone Providers for Birds!

Mountain Lions Are Keystone Providers for Birds: Mountain Lion, (Felis concolor,) Courtesy US FWS, Larry Moats, Photographer
Mountain Lion
Felis concolor
Courtesy US FWS
Larry Moats, Photographer

Cougar or Mountain Lion(Felis concolor). Courtesy US FWS Cougar or Mountain Lion
Felis concolor
Courtesy US FWS

Yellow-billed Cuckoo, (Coccyzus americannus,) Courtesy and Copyright Eric Peterson, Photographer Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Coccyzus americannus
Courtesy & © Eric Peterson, Photographer

When we think about World Migratory Bird Day, we often think about providing for their needs with water, bird feeders, and native plants, and hopefully we are keeping cats indoors and taking steps to prevent the lethal danger of window-collisions. We may even think about the importance of sponge city landscaping and beaver dams to slow and store snowmelt runoff, but it is the Mountain Lion which has the unique distinction of being a keystone provider ranked as the top vertebrate feeder of birds – in fact they “feed more mammals and birds than any other predator, increasing the number of animal interactions – the links in food webs so essential to maintaining ecosystem resilience. And they are ecosystem engineers on top of this as well.”
(1) Researchers have found that large carcasses create essential habitat for carrion-dependent beetles – these are not just food for beetles, but the very places beetles spend their lives, hiding from predators, seeking mates, raising young, and morphing from larvae [lahr-vee] into adult forms which disperse in search of the next carcass to begin the cycle all over again. (2)The food web gets to the very heart of bird migration, and the very real challenge of ensuring a future in which people and birds can thrive with dwindling habitat resources essential for survival.

Consider the Yellow-billed Cuckoo [koo-koo], one of the World Migratory Bird Day Ambassador species, to highlight the importance of water and riparian habitat for birds. A long-distance migrant, the Yellow-billed Cuckoo breeds in the United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean, and migrates through Central America to reach its wintering grounds in South America. It seeks wooded habitats with water nearby, where it feasts mostly on insects, especially caterpillars, during the spring and summer, transitioning to a more fruit- and seed-heavy diet in the fall and winter.

The Yellow-billed Cuckoo was selected for this year’s World Migratory Bird Day campaign to help shed light on the decline of riparian habitats along our rivers, streams, and freshwater lakes, particularly in the American West, where species that rely on these areas are experiencing population declines and are in possible danger of extirpation from some states. These western riparian species include Summer Tanager, Yellow Warbler, Willow Flycatcher, Yellow-breasted Chat, and Yellow-billed Cuckoo. Loss of native forest to farmland, housing, and other development has led to significant population declines in these species, especially in the case of the Cuckoo, which relies on large patches of streamside forest for breeding.

The Yellow-billed Cuckoo is becoming an increasingly rare bird in the American West. We need to increase awareness and encourage decision makers to explore ways to protect riparian areas, remove invasive species, restore habitat, and conserve water. World Migratory Bird Day 2023 aims to contribute to these efforts by highlighting the importance of water conservation and habitat management for migratory birds, and by providing resources to help promote these important issues. Bird Day is every day, but especially mid-May and mid-October. Learn more at migratorybirdday.org, and learn more about how to conserve water for sustaining bird life!

I’m Hilary Shughart with the Bridgerland Audubon Society, and I am Wild About Utah!

Images: Mountain Lion images Courtesy US Fish & Wildlife Service, Larry Moats, Photographer
     Yellow-beaked Cuckoo, Courtesy & Copyright, Eric Peterson, VikingPhotographyUtah
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections/kevin-colver
Text: Hilary Shughart, President, Bridgerland Audubon Society
Additional Reading: Hilary Shughart and Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

WildAboutUtah pieces by Hilary Shughart, https://wildaboututah.org/author/hilary-shughart/

In research recently published in the prestigious journal, Oecologia, we show that mountain lions are ecosystem engineers that create essential habitat for carrion-dependent beetles. It is the first research to show that an apex predator plays the role of engineer. In collaboration with graduate researcher, Josh Barry, and Dr. Melissa Grigione at Pace University, we collected and identified 24, 209 beetles across 18 sites, representing 215 unique beetle species. The carcasses abandoned by mountain lions were not just food for beetles, but the very places beetles spent their lives, hiding from predators, seeking mates, raising young, and morphing from larvae into adult forms that dispersed in search of the next carcass to begin the cycle all over again.”
Barry, J.M., Elbroch, L.M., Aiello-Lammens, M.E. et al. Pumas as ecosystem engineers: ungulate carcasses support beetle assemblages in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Oecologia 189, 577–586 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-018-4315-z

Mountain Lions as Ecosystem Engineers, MarkElbroch.com, https://markelbroch.com/blog/2019/02/mountain-lions-as-ecosystem-engineers/, [Accessed April 29, 2023]

Mountain Lion Conservation, MarkElbroch.com, https://markelbroch.com/mountain-lion-conservation/, [Accessed April 29, 2023]

EOC 206: Mark’s Cougar Conundrum, Eyes on Conservation Podcast, https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-eyes-on-conservation-podcast/id916341600 [Accessed April 30, 2023]

Elbroch, Mark, The Cougar Conundrum, Sharing the World with a Successful Predator,, Island Press, August 2020, https://islandpress.org/books/cougar-conundrum [Accessed April 30, 2023]

Panthera USA, https://www.panthera.org/ [Accessed April 30, 2023]
Mark Elbroch, Ph.D., Panthera USA, https://panthera.org/mark-elbroch-phd [Accessed April 30, 2023]

MarkElbroch.com, https://markelbroch.com/ [Accessed April 29, 2023]

Wiggins, D. (2005, March 25). Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus): a technical conservation assessment.
[Online]. USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region. Available: https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5182002.pdf [Apr 30, 2023].

Yellow-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus americanus, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Yellow-billed_Cuckoo/

May 13 & October 14, World Migratory Bird Day 2023, WATER, UNEP/CMS Secretariat and UNEP/AEWA Secretariat, https://www.worldmigratorybirdday.org/