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Ongoing Pika Watch 2023

By Struan Robertson

A pika sits on a rock

There is an active population of Pikas (Ochotona princeps) among the rockslides of the Horse Barn Valley, and efforts are being made to document the loose colonies. Obviously pikas are difficult to count, but they do leave visible clues because they gather green shoots, grasses and even twigs for their winter feed, and make caches of these under large, overhanging rocks.

Pikas are members of the rabbit family, and they do not hibernate. They spend the cold months in their tunnels under the rocks and snow and depend on their stored stashes of vegetation to sustain them until the spring thaw – about five months.

A pika stash of ferns and leaves under a rock

Some people have expressed concern that pikas are particularly sensitive to warming temperatures and are disappearing from some of their previous habitats in Rocky Mountain parks, but there are also reports that pika colonies are adapting to climate change and continue to survive.

Recent stash counts along the Tora Bora rockslides:

  • 2020: 16

  • 2021: 24

  • 2022: 28

  • 2023: 33

So that population is stable... or we are become more efficient counters!

A pika stash of grasses and leaves under a large rock

In 2023, we also observed pika activity along the Talus Trail rockslide, and counted five obvious caches where there have seldom been signs before. Perhaps we are seeing results of a migration from Tora Bora or elsewhere. We also did a casual count of visible stashes on the rocks below the Diagonal Trail, just north of the Tora Bora, and discovered five.

Involved in the 2023 survey were Will Warnock, Brad Bingham, Eva Boehringer, and Struan Robertson.

Four people face the camera on a rocky slope
2023 Pika Stash Counters


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