Pikas, Our First Haymakers

Pikas, Our First Haymakers
Photo © 2004-2008 Mark Chappell

“Make hay while the sun shines” is a venerable bit of farm wisdom that encourages cutting and drying of hay during fair weather. One, two, possibly three cuttings of alfalfa hay have been baled and stacked this summer by Utah’s farmers to feed dairy cows and horses this winter. More traditionally, ranchers have cut meadow or marsh hay to be piled in the lofts of their barns.

Utah’s first haymakers were not ranchers at all, however. These earliest haymakers cut hay for their own consumption. To see and hear these daytime haymakers, you must travel high into our mountains, to 9,000 feet or higher. Look for a boulder strewn talus slope or rockslide. Listen for this call….. if you hear it, you have found the pika, our first haymaker. That call was either declaring the pika’s individual territory or an alarm announcing you. These rounded relatives of our rabbits resemble a tawny-coated chinchilla or a plush, plump guinea pig. They have nearly circular small ears and no apparent tail.

All day long during the alpine summer, pikas are busy cutting grasses, sedges and wildflowers from neighboring meadows. They haul this back by the mouthful to tuck in crevasses in their stony stronghold to dry. These stockpiles are their winter larder. You see, unlike their alpine kin, such as marmots, ground squirrels and chipmunks, our pikas don’t burrow and they don’t hibernate. Unlike the snowshoe hare, pikas don’t get out much either once the snow flies. Under the snow pack, they simply dine on hay.

Pikas are strange little lagomorphs
(relatives of rabbits and hares)
that live in rocky areas and talus slopes
in alpine habitats in much of the
mountainous western US and Canada.
Photo © 2004-2008 Mark Chappell

In Utah, poke around for pikas amid high peaks along the mountainous central spine of our state, from the Uintas south to Brian Head, wherever peaks reach toward tree line and you can find. There you may find pikas making hay or loafing atop prominent stones in their rock jumbles, or contributing to the territorial calls of their talus slope choir. Their intolerance of heat keeps them from spreading downslope. Like the moose, they are one of the animals that will fare poorly with significant climate warming. For now, though, you can continue to peek for picas amid Utah’s glorious alpine scenery.


Photo: Images of the Natural World, Courtesy & Copyright 2004-2008 Mark Chappell https://faculty.ucr.edu/~chappell/INW/
American Pika Page: https://faculty.ucr.edu/~chappell/INW/mammals/pika.shtml
Audio: Trout and Berry Days by Leaping Lulu, https://wildaboututah.org/about-us/
Text: Jim Cane, Bridgerland Audubon Society
Voice: Richard (Dick) Hurren, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

American Pika, Utah Division of Natural Resources, https://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/rsgis2/search/Display.asp?FlNm=ochoprin

Pikas in Utah, Video from Utah DWR, https://youtu.be/czMoUzBUkTE

“Damn Cute Pikas” Narrated by David Attenborough and posted by Paul Garita on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QVJuRgil0wQ&NR=1
American Pika, Nature Works, New Hampshire Public Television, https://www.nhptv.org/NATUREWORKS/americanpika.htm

Pika, Utah DWR Instragram Account, https://www.instagram.com/p/r7_haQtoZC/?modal=true

Fluffy_Memory_6238, Show me your war cry (Pika alert), Animals Being Derps, Reddit.com, https://www.reddit.com/r/AnimalsBeingDerps/comments/ppcaaw/show_me_your_war_cry/

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Sensitive Species biologist Kevin Labrum talks with Brett Prettyman from SL Tribune about Pikas in Utah