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Finding the Pika in the Haystack

Eeeeeeeeeeeek! This is the shriek of the Pika (pronounced ˈpē-kə, or ˈpī- kə ) resonating across a rocky alpine slope. It’s the end of summer and Pika’s are busy gathering grass, fireweed, dryas and a suite of other plants to ready themselves for winter. They gather their organic stashes and organize them in “hay” piles under overhanging rocks, in crevasses and in subnivean chambers.

Banff National Park researchers, in collaboration with the Bow Valley Naturalists and the University of Alberta, are piloting a project to monitor Pika populations by counting the active and inactive hay piles. Pikas are territorial and if a pika is present it will store hay at the same place as its ancestors, so the number of active piles can be used as an index for population size. Studying the Central Rockies Pika will help the team develop a baseline for monitoring a species that is especially susceptible to changes in climate such as the timing of snow melt and changes in precipitation and summer temperatures.

Pika
 Pika © Jesse Whittington / Parks Canada

Pika study site - C-Level Cirque
Research site - C-Level Cirque © Parks Canada

Pika hay pile
Hay pile © Parks Canada

Pika
Pika © Parks Canada

Pika
Pika © Parks Canada

Pika
Pika © Parks Canada

Pika
Pika © Parks Canada

Pika
Pika © Parks Canada

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