American Pika

American Pika

Cony, Hay-maker, Mouse-hare, Piping hare, Rock rabbit, Rocky Mountain pika, Southern pika, Whistling hare, Little Chief hare

Ochotona princeps
Population size
Life Span
3-7 years
g oz 
mm inch 

American pikas (Ochotona princeps) are mountain-dwelling mammals found in the mountains of western North America. They are smaller relatives of rabbits and hares. They have two different ways of foraging; they either directly consume food or they cache food in piles for the winter (haying). They are also very vocal and use calls and songs to warn when predators are nearby and during the breeding season.


American pikas have a small, round, ovate body. Their hind legs do not seem to be much longer than their front legs and their hind feet are relatively short when compared to most other lagomorphs. They have densely furred soles on their feet except for black pads at the ends of the toes. The ears are moderately large and suborbicular and are hairy on both surfaces, normally dark with white margins. The pika's "buried" tail is longer relative to body size compared to other lagomorphs. The fur color of the pika is the same for both sexes but varies by subspecies and season. The dorsal fur of the pika ranges from grayish to cinnamon-brown, often colored with tawny or ochraceous hues, during the summer. During winter, the fur becomes grayer and longer. The dense underfur is usually slate gray- or lead-colored. It also has whitish ventral fur.




American pikas live in southwest Canada and the western U.S. They can also be seen in Oregon, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, New Mexico, California, and Montana. They inhabit alpine terrain on mountains above the tree line. They are found on rock faces, cliffs, and talus near mountain meadows, talus being a rocky area on cliff sides, slopes, or hillsides.

American Pika habitat map

Climate zones

American Pika habitat map
American Pika
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Habits and Lifestyle

American pikas are adapted to very inhospitable environments, living where most other mammals avoid going - the treeless slopes of mountains: a very rocky, cold, and treacherous habitat for the tiny pika. These animals help protect themselves through their life in colonies. They live close to other pikas and they will alert the group about predators by giving a warning call. Although this species lives in colonies, they are extremely territorial over the den and surrounding area. An individual will make territorial calls to define its boundaries with its neighbor. Pikas usually have their den and nest sites below rock around 0.2-1 m in diameter, but often sit on larger and more prominent rocks. They rely on existing spaces in the talus for homes and do not dig burrows. However, they can enlarge their homes by digging. These tiny animals are active during the daytime and do not hibernate in winter, being active throughout the year. In winter they tend to spend most of their time inside the den. They eat stored grasses and venture out to forage if the weather permits. You will often hear a pika before you can see it, as they call and sing to define or protect their territory, warn others of danger, and attract mates. Their call sounds like a bleating lamb, but squeakier and more high-pitched.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

American pikas are herbivores (graminivores) and their favorite foods are grasses, weeds, and the tall wildflowers growing in their high mountain habitat. They are also coprophagic (i.e. they eat their feces which have high energy value and protein content).

Mating Habits

early to mid-spring
30 days
2-6 kits
1 month
kit, kitten

American pikas are monogamous (one male mates with one female), and an adult from a neighboring territory is sought as a mate. When there is more than one possible mate available, females may make a choice. American pikas start to breed from early to mid-spring. Two litters of 2-6 young are produced each year, after a gestation of 30 days. However, often only one litter survives as long as the weaning stage. Births usually start in May, with a peak in June, but at lower elevations may be as early as March. At birth, the young are entirely dependent on their mother. During the period of nursing, the mother spends a lot of time away from her nest, returning every two hours or so to nurse her infants. After about a month the young are weaned, and they reach adult size in 3 months. After a year they can breed.


Population threats

The major threat to American pikas is global climate change, and this species is in line to become the first North American mammal to be a victim of this threat. A study carried out from 1994 to 1999 found that 7 out of 25 American pika populations that were monitored had become extinct, partly due to climate change. This species is particularly vulnerable to this danger, as its habitat is the cool, relatively moist alpine climate. As temperatures rise, animals living in the mountains may move higher to find suitable habitat but this option is not open to the American pika, as it already lives so high up. As it has adapted to living in mountainous areas that are not often above freezing temperatures, it can die even after only a few hours of exposure to temperatures like 78 degrees F.

Population number

The IUCN Red List and other sources don’t provide the number of the American pika total population size. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List, but its numbers today are decreasing.

Ecological niche

Due to collecting and storing of food in piles in crevices or on rocks, American pikas modify their habitat and thus have earned the label of ‘ecosystem engineer’.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Pikas are thought to have evolved from an animal from Siberia that crossed to North America over the land bridge that used to exist between Asia and Alaska.
  • Aside from rushing to and fro from their territory seeking food, American pikas spend much of their time sitting still, observing their surroundings, and watching out for predators such as weasels, coyotes, martens, and stoats.
  • American pikas are well-prepared animals. To prepare for winter, when there are not so many grasses and flowers to be found in the mountains, pikas save food during the summer. They collect a pile of grasses and wildflowers and spread them out to dry in the sun so they will not get moldy, then store them in their den until winter.
  • A pika will make a shrill call of warning and dive into its burrow when threatened by predators and so is known as the ‘whistling hare’.
  • The other form of communication for American pikas is scent-marking with cheek glands. Apocrine sweat glands produce the cheek markings which are used to demarcate territories and attract potential mates. Both males and females spread them by rubbing their cheeks on rocks.

Coloring Pages


1. American Pika Wikipedia article -
2. American Pika on The IUCN Red List site -

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