Pika in Rocky Mountain National Park

One of the very special creatures that lives in Rocky Mountain National Park is the pika. This small little creature lives among the rocks high above tree line and is something of a workaholic.

We’ve all heard the expression “As busy as a beaver,” but it could easily be “As busy as a pika.” The pika (pronounced "pie-kah") is a small, furry creature that typically lives in the alpine zones of Rocky Mountain National Park and is among the hardest working of the park’s animals. All summer long you can watch the many pikas as they scurry across the tundra, their mouths filled with grass, sedges, and flowers. This vegetation they bring back to their secret hiding places in the rocks where it dries in large piles called haystacks. It will provide the pikas with nourishment throughout the long winter, since unlike many other animals, they do not hibernate.

The pika may look to some like a mouse, but it is not a rodent. The pika is a mammal and part of the Ochotonidae family, which also includes rabbits and hares. Like rabbits, it eats its droppings in order to maximize the amount of nutrition for its body.

In Rocky Mountain National Park, you will find pikas in rocky areas at or above tree line. It makes its home in rock piles where it can easily elude predators. Hikers are likely to hear its loud chirping sound while passing by—a warning that they are in its territory.

The pika is a cold-weather creature. Exposure to hours of temperatures above 78°F (25°C) can be deadly. Both the unusually warm temperatures and the loss of its winter snowpack could be having a concerning impact on the pika. Being so small, it cannot migrate north, and some scientists wonder if the little pika will be able to survive the changes.

Wildlife Watching Tips:

Pikas tend to like the same general places as marmots. Look for rocky areas in the tundra of Rocky Mountain National Park. You’ll often find them stretched out on rocks soaking in the sun. One good place to find them is below the road at the Rock Cut pull-over on Trail Ridge Road, on the back side of the Alpine Visitor Center, and in rock piles all along the tundra of Trail Ridge Road. Listen for their chirping sounds. Both pikas and marmots make different chirps.